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Improving the fairness of the criminal justice system

January 06, 2014

John F. Hollway C’92, Executive Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, details the mission of Penn Law’s newest Center - a national research and policy hub created to catalyze long term structural improvements to the U.S. criminal justice system. The Center takes an interdisciplinary, data-driven, scientific approach to identifying and analyzing the most crucial problems in the justice system, and proposing solutions that improve its fairness for the long term benefit of society. Its research and programs are independent and unbiased, engaging all parties — academia, judiciary, law enforcement, defense and prosecution, legislative, forensic and social scientists, media and other participants – required to effect substantial change for the better.




I’m John Hollway. I’m the Executive Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law.

The Quattrone Center was conceived of as a research and policy hub, a place that would bring together all of the participants of the criminal justice system and match them with researchers and scientists of a wide range of backgrounds, to really look under the covers of the criminal justice system and identify data driven best practices that we can use to reduce the number of mistakes that are made to ensure the fair administration of justice.

Ideally, what we all aspire to is a system where we almost don’t need an appellate system because mistakes aren’t being made. We’re arresting the right person, we’re trying the right person, and we’re convicting the right person of the right crime every time. We’re humans and it’s a complex system so that may not be attainable, but certainly that’s the aspiration of the Quattrone Center.

It’s a much more varied and less blame-focused approach to figuring out where mistakes are being made to ensure that in this complex system, where there are a lot of different actors participating all the time, we have the right procedures in place right from the beginning of where somebody joins the criminal justice system, to ensure that by the time we get to a trial, everybody has the information they need to ensure justice is done.

Housing the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law provides us with a lot of natural benefits and advantages that are going to really help us as we implement our research and policy recommendations. Because we’re an academic institution, our emphasis is not on any political agenda or particular bias - it’s solely about generating data that will make the system more accurate. That’s something that I think all members of the criminal justice system can unite around, and it should enable us to foster and environment of open and honest dialogue about what we can do better in the criminal justice system, that I really don’t think that can be done in any other setting.

The great thing about being here at Penn specifically, is that when I walk out of my office, not only do I have access to a host of world renown legal scholars, but in the four-block radius around the Law School, I have access to interdisciplinary researchers that are world-class across the board.

So, whether those people are involved in medicine, or forensic science, or psychology,or social work, focused on recidivism, or sentencing policies, focused on criminology and police work, communications, economics, public policy, the various schools of the University have world class experts in all of those disciplines and by bringing those people and their technologies and their abilities together with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and policy makers there’s a real opportunity for rapid change here, that I think is simply not available in other places.

Transcript edited for length.