To address the Issues identified by the Institute, the Institute is relying upon “Issue Operating Committees.” These committees are composed of Board members, people from the community with special knowledge or expertise in a particular area, and individuals who have been affected by the specific aspect of the criminal justice system.
These Issue Operating Committees are working for full transparency from governmental officials and institutions. They are working in a collaborative effort to craft real-world solutions to the identified issues in the criminal justice system. Their work is supported by Institute staff, especially with regard to data collection and analysis. Their work is going forward under the Institute’s rubric of data driven research, supplemented by the experiences of those who have been affected by the criminal justice processes described by the data.
Thus far, a Police Reform committee has been established and is already meeting with local officials to find ways to improve police interaction with our communities, as well as overall ways to reimagine the policing function generally. Two other committees, one on Bail and one on prisoner Re-entry Programs are being formed. Probation and Parole issues will be addressed either by the Re-entry committee or a separate new committee. Members of the Lehigh Valley community with specific knowledge, and those who have been adversely affected by the specific issue addressed by one of the committees are encouraged to contact the Institute to assist in our work.
In addition to the committees working on individual issues, four members of our Board have been engaged in a research collaborative which will take a comprehensive look at the criminal justice system in the Lehigh Valley. The multi-institutional Research Collaborative is a multi-year study being undertaken by Kate Richmond of Muhlenberg College, Angela Bell of Lafayette College, Holona Ochs of Lehigh University, and Ebonie Cunningham Stringer of Penn State University. The work of the Collaborative is being organized by the Institute’s Vice-President Wilberto Sicard. The Research Collaborative was spawned by the local Color of Justice movement, which also gave rise to our Institute.
The Research Collaborative has adopted a Statement of Values and Practices to guide their work:
We are a research collaborative engaged in participatory action research (PAR) around structural racism, crime, and justice in the Lehigh Valley. PAR is a mode of research that uses community collaborations and reflection to initiate and promote meaningful change around social problems. Our objective is to use PAR to address structural racism in the component parts of the Lehigh Valley criminal justice system.
The Research Collaborative’s research, action, and reflection strives to include as many members of our community of practice as possible.
We aim to leverage the resources of the Lehigh Valley to address one of the most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems in our community, criminal justice. We believe that persons currently or previously involved with the criminal justice system are experts, uniquely qualified to speak and produce knowledge about the criminal justice system and to identify opportunities for improvement. Whenever possible, we center and amplify these voices in our research. Whenever possible, we compensate these individuals for their time, consultation, and expertise.
We believe that structural racism, heteronormativity, sexism, classism and other oppressive structures intersect to diminish life chances for some members of our community. We are committed to research methodologies and practices that minimize and ameliorate oppression and exploitation of the persons and systems we study. Thus, we commit to ongoing self-reflection and assessments of our collaborative work to ensure that we do no harm to those that we profess to protect and empower.
We value and practice honesty, integrity, trust, respect, and professionalism. These values form the foundation and the heart of our intentions and interactions with one another and our community partners. We will respect one another’s ideas, labor and intellectual property.
While we join this work as a collective, we recognize the various walks of life, stages of career, personal experiences, etc. that each member brings to our work. We acknowledge each other’s humanity and are foremost attentive to the care, support and respect that each person needs and deserves.
The success of our work together hinges on our ability to renew hope and act as a catalyst for progressive social change in our community and beyond. Our objective is to provide accessible information that can be used to improve well-being and promote criminal justice policies and practices in Lehigh County courts, corrections and policing. Our findings will be disseminated in the Lehigh County community as well as scientific communities.