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Duke Law School Creates Criminal Justice Center

The newly created Duke Center for Science and Justice was established to focus on legal and scientific research in its efforts to reform the criminal justice system, according to an announcement Tuesday.

Duke will launch the center with an event beginning at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday featuring Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana, “two members of the Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five,” according to a press statement. Salaam, Santana, and three other youths wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the 1989 beating of a Central Park jogger had their convictions vacated after another man whose DNA matched DNA from the scene confessed to the assault and rape.

Based at the Duke Law School, the Duke Center for Science and Justice announced that it intends to “bring together faculty and students in law, medicine, public policy, and arts and sciences to pursue research, policy and law reform, and education in three areas: accuracy of evidence in criminal cases; the role of risk in criminal outcomes; and addressing a person’s treatment needs as an alternative to arrest and incarceration. It will also examine the needs of formerly incarcerated persons who are re-entering society.”

The center’s launch is supported by a $4.7 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, which supports research and educational programs in areas such as criminal justice and policing reform.

The center will be led by Brandon Garrett, the L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law and a leading scholar of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, and wrongful convictions.

Garrett’s research “focuses on the non-partisan, evidence-based study and prevention of wrongful convictions and improving criminal procedure,” according to the statement. Since joining the Duke faculty in 2018, he has established the JustScience Lab, which has produced new research and reports on such matters in North Carolina as disparities when juveniles are sentenced to life without parole, the consequences of fines and fees, the adequacy of resources for alternatives to incarceration, and best practices for eyewitness identification procedures.

A goal of the center “is to convey the results of research to stakeholders in the criminal justice system.” Garrett’s studies have included the causes of wrongful convictions in cases of people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, Duke researchers are studying how to better explain to jurors the fallibility of evidence such as eyewitness memory and fingerprint comparisons.

“Duke University is a leader in fostering collaborative interdisciplinary research, and Duke Law School is known for its leading criminal law and justice faculty and pioneering Wrongful Convictions Clinic,” said Garrett. “This history of applying deep scholarly inquiry to society’s most pressing challenges makes Duke the perfect place for a center that employs science to help achieve a better criminal justice system.”

Leading researchers from Duke’s School of Medicine will be involved in the center’s work, providing a public health perspective to criminal justice research. The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Department of Population Health Sciences are currently collaborating on research on such topics as the epidemiology of violence, the impact of services addressing mental health and substance abuse, and the effectiveness of criminal diversion and re-entry programs.

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