Criminal justice research and advocacy

In a variety of Justice Lab projects, students researched and developed proposals to improve the criminal justice system, exploring such problems as prison overcrowding, racial disparities, and barriers to housing and employment faced by citizens returning from incarceration.

  • Pennsylvania courts continue to reverse wrongful convictions obtained through incorrect or outdated forensic techniques. It is inefficient and unjust to address these errors one by one when it is clear that they are based on flawed science.  Students worked with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to research how other states have solved this problem, through forensic science commissions and other mechanisms, and develop strategies for Pennsylvania.
  • The practice of requiring cash bail from criminal defendants has been shown to discriminate against people in poverty and to contribute to mass incarceration. The federal court system eliminated cash bail years ago; now, a movement to eliminate it at the state and local levels is underway as well. Justice Lab students worked with Redeemed PA to develop a plan for eliminating cash bail in Pennsylvania.
  • Twenty to thirty percent of people held in Philadelphia jails are there on a “probation hold” — i.e., an allegation that they have violated the terms of their release on probation or parole. Students worked with the Defender Association of Philadelphia to determine how defense counsel can best protect the legal rights of defendants subject to probation holds.
  • A 2015 Justice Lab report, “The current status of Philadelphia prisons and the need for reform,” proposed ways of reducing the City’s extreme prison overcrowding problem