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Quattrone Center hosts 2014 spring symposium: “A Systems Approach to Conviction Integrity”

April 07, 2014

By Angela Hooks C’14 & Anna Pan C’14

The Quattrone Center for Fair Administration and Justice’s Spring Symposium took place April 14-15, featuring a variety of panels and speakers exploring a “systems approach” to conviction integrity.

Keynote speaker Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), focused his address on “Enforcement and Safety: Finding a Balance.” Utilizing examples of transportation accidents from around the world, he emphasized the importance of finding the root causes of accidents and making systemic changes to procedures, rather than pointing fingers and laying blame.

Pointing to the pitfalls of overzealous criminalization, he highlighted the importance of utilizing data and information to understand how systems and procedures failed and can be improved to ensure future accidents or crimes do not occur. Hart said, “There is such a human cry for criminalization when something goes wrong.”

While people may be satisfied with someone ending up in jail or required to pay a hefty fine, this does not bode well for improving procedures and systems, he said. Because drivers, pilots and others often face criminal charges in the face of an accident, they are not willing to speak to safety inspectors and others trying to improve the current systems, whose voices are important to fully understanding why transportation accidents occur.  “Everyone wants to know why a plane crashes and the only way we’re going to know is if everyone talks to everyone,” said Hart.

Four panelists on Friday discussed conviction integrity, covering topics including cases of innocence, insufficient funding, and effective approaches to accountability.

Jeff Adach, the only elected public defender in California, currently serves in San Francisco. He mentioned the need for proper funding of the public defender’s office. Adach also spoke of Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, to emphasize the preventability of multiple issues through a simple checklist. “You might be an expert in a particular field, but using a checklist ensures that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to,” he said. “It’s impossible to remember everything off the top of your head in every situation.” He cited the six different lists he uses for immigration as an example.

Amy Bach, the founder of Measures for Justice, emphasized the severity of domestic violence cases and how they are often ignored. “We’re trying to make the invisible visible,” Bach said. She outlined the three goals of her organization: enhance public safety, promote fairness and accuracy, and improve fiscal responsibility.

Karen Amendola, Chief Operating Officer of Police Foundation, claimed that the traditional focus of internal investigations is flawed and should be renamed to “external affairs” in order to convey transparency. She went on to state that past approaches to accountability are limited by their emphasis on failure, punishments, and blame. “This model assumes society has a lot of bad apples in it.” Amendola argued that the system should instead emphasize procedural justice, learning, and appropriate messaging.

Craig Watkins, District Attorney in Dallas, discussed his conviction integrity unit, which investigates cases of innocence. “The criminal justice system needs to live up to what the Founding Fathers wanted when they wrote the Constitution all those years ago,” he stated. Watkins also expressed concern over the fact that “we’re not getting anything back when the actual criminals return to society. They learn to become better criminals.”

The Quattrone Center is a national research and policy hub created by the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2013 to catalyze long-term structural improvements to the US criminal justice system through data-driven policy research.

For more tweets from #QCSpring14, see the full timeline on Twitter.