After a year filled with turmoil surrounding policing, equity and the justice system, the University of South Florida has created an interdisciplinary center dedicated to serving Tampa Bay as the major training and knowledge hub for issues related to social and criminal justice.
The new Center for Justice Research & Policy, which is funded in part through a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Justice, brings together scholars and practitioners from colleges across USF’s three campuses, area law enforcement agencies and community advocates. The collaboration will provide learning opportunities for students and will help in the development of evidence-based solutions to address some of the justice system’s greatest challenges.
“It’s beyond time that we lay the groundwork for moving beyond academic silos and science-public communication gaps to allow for innovative ideas that produce practical results,” said Edelyn Verona, a psychology professor who serves as one of the center’s co-directors along with criminology professor Bryanna Fox. “As recent events around the country show, we need multilevel solutions that address the various biases and improve the effectiveness of the system to ensure public safety.”
The center’s leadership team draws from extensive experience in crime prevention, substance abuse, juvenile justice, gun violence, human trafficking, forensic anthropology and the court system. They’ll also offer training events to community partners on topics such as evidence-based policing, criminal justice reform, crisis intervention and reentry services, risk assessment and more. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students from across all disciplines will have the opportunity to collaborate through the center and participate in translational, community-engaged research and help identify practical applications for their findings.
“The causes and responses to crime are multi-systemic, but rarely do we see truly collaborative efforts on these fronts,” Fox said. “It’s been a long-time goal to establish an interdisciplinary hub focused on conducting research and innovating real-world strategies to help reduce crime and incarceration, promote safe communities and improve outcomes for people in the justice system. This center is one of the first to do just that.”
Several projects are already underway at the center. Fox and Verona have been working with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to study and evaluate reentry services for jail inmates. Fox is also providing oversight of new policies and procedures enacted by the Tampa Police Department to improve its relationship with communities of color.
Along with the grant from the National Institute of Justice, the center is also getting funding from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Tampa Bay Rays/Tampa Bay Rowdies. Each organization has provided $25,000 to support the center’s mission.
“The USF Center for Justice Research & Policy is doing important work in the study of criminal and social justice policy to move us closer to equity,” said Tampa Bay Rays president and Tampa Bay Rowdies vice chairman Brian Auld. “We are proud to support their work.”
In addition to launching the center, USF has taken a series of actions in recent months to work toward dismantling systemic racism and actively promote racial equity across its campuses and in surrounding communities. Last September, a diversity and inclusion task force was formed on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. The task force, which includes university administrators, faculty members, students, city officials, nonprofits and business leaders, aims to connect with the local community to seek solutions to pervasive racial injustice.