Nearly five months after USF announced the creation of an interdisciplinary center focused on criminal justice and police reform, the Center for Justice Research and Policy (CJRP) will hold its virtual launch Wednesday as a symbolic step of the team’s research beginning.
The kickoff will take place from 3-4 p.m. on Microsoft Teams, according to Bryanna Fox, co-director of the center and criminology professor. It will consist of a general review of the center’s activities, from interdisciplinary research to its current outreach projects.
The CJRP is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, psychology practitioners, criminology, anthropology, medicine and public health, law enforcement officers and students who study the multifaceted causes of crime, the criminal justice system and the impacts of crime, violence and incarceration on the community, according to Fox. Its mission is to enhance the basis of policing, court systems and policies with the application of research and science-based evidence.
The team will be housed in the Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disorders on the Tampa campus.
Fox and her co-director, psychology professor Edelyn Verona, said they are anticipating the event after “years and years” of combining their research efforts to find evidence-based solutions to incarceration and criminal justice bias.
“We had this dream to really use our science to benefit and improve the way that justice is administered in this country, because a lot of times these systems work off of nonevidence-based strategies and practices,” said Verona.
“We wanted to build that bridge between the science we do that only gets read by others who really aren’t in the field, and those who are actually in the field.”
Fox said the CJRP’s leadership team will be introduced at the event and recognized for the contributions they made that led to the launch. Special guests like USF President Steven Currall and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor will be in attendance as well.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of people coming out to support us, and the guests in attendance are going to be very diverse,” said Fox. “It’s going to be professors, researchers, students, people who are out in the community doing work, we invited all members of local law enforcement, all the chiefs and sheriffs.
“We want to make sure that people are all aware of what we have to offer.”
CJRP’s team initially worked with Castor and her task force on policing as well as with Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan to address issues with policing in the Tampa Bay community. This participation served as the catalyst for the center’s launch.
“We have a great collaborative environment where we’re working together on issues for evidence based research and translating into policy,” said Fox. “But the only way you can translate things into policy is you have to work with and have the trust and buy-in from policymakers and practitioners.”
The collaborative efforts of the center in multiple areas of study makes it the first of its kind in Florida, according to Verona.
“In other parts of the country, they do have criminal justice centers, but they tend not to be interdisciplinary, so we really sought out to make it unique with this interdisciplinary lens,” said Verona.
Verona said the center’s application for interdisciplinary research was approved by the USF Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors as a state-level research center this past January.
The CJRP also received support from the National Institute of Justice in the form of a $1.2 million grant this past January to help fund research, services and treatment for inmates, and policy reform. Athletic organizations like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Rays each donated $25,000 as well. Representatives of these major league teams will also attend Wednesday’s launch.
The virtual event is open for all students and community members to attend. Research conducted by the CJRP is open for all students to participate in.
The launch will feature criminology graduate student Meghan Scott, who conducted a significant amount of her undergrad research under the instruction of both Fox and Verona. She will be speaking about her participation in the CJRP’s current projects and her experience following along on the center’s development.
“It has been a longtime goal of Dr. Fox and Dr. Verona to see this vision of an interdisciplinary research center devoted entirely to the topic of criminal justice come to fruition,” said Scott. “It was very exciting for me to watch this all come together and I am very grateful to the university, as well as our sponsors, including Tampa’s professional sports teams, for making this possible.”
Scott said working with Fox on Castor’s task force has been her most memorable and rewarding experience thus far. She believes students who choose to work with the center in the future will benefit from a well-rounded, interdisciplinary experience on how to address crime in their communities.
“The students who are involved with us are really the engine of the work we do. We have at least two dozen students involved right now. They run from graduate students in masters students PhD students to lots of undergraduate students in criminology, health sciences, and psychology,” said Verona.
“Students are very interested in changing the world; that’s a really big impetus for them. And research is part of that. Science is part of that.”