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BJA Visiting Fellows: Bridging the Criminal Justice Policy Divide

Karhlton F. Moore, Director, Bureau of Justice Assistance
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BJA Director Karhlton F. Moore

My career as a broker between government agencies and nonprofit organizations has taught me that the public trust is improved by a regular exchange of ideas between the two sectors. Public service is most dynamic, and most relevant, when it draws on the intellectual and lived experiences of people in nonprofit organizations and academia who have built careers studying local issues and engaged in independent analysis. The vibrant work of nongovernment professionals benefits, in turn, by the authority and legitimacy conferred by their partnership with federal, state, and local institutions.

Perhaps nowhere does this interchange of resources have greater potential to make a difference than in matters of public safety and justice system reform. The confluence of gun violence and the breakdown of community trust, of interpersonal trauma and racial reckoning, has brought our nation to a watershed moment. How are we to arrive at solutions to community safety problems that address the twin goals of security and equity?

I have found that mutually supportive relationships between public and private professionals can help us navigate the fault lines of criminal justice policymaking and bridge the difference between rhetoric and reality.

As we work to reshape the landscape of public safety in America, we are calling on the brightest minds and most experienced hands, both within and outside government, to help us reimagine our nation’s criminal justice system. The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is broadening our horizons by welcoming five criminal justice researchers and practitioners to the BJA Visiting Fellows Program.

These fellows, joining us from nonprofit and academic institutions across the country, will work alongside OJP staff to advance policies and programs in policing, corrections, reentry, and behavioral health. They will bolster federal talent with new perspectives that will enable us to expand the base of evidence on which sound decisions about justice and safety rest.

Each of the fellows represents a nationally renowned organization or institution. More than $1.5 million in grants were awarded to those organizations or to the fellows themselves under the program. Awards made under the Visiting Fellows Program will fund fellowships for a period of 24 months, including a residency period of at least 9 to 12 months in Washington, D.C.

Our criminal justice system is at a point where novel approaches are called for and cooperation is necessary across all sectors. I am excited that this program will allow us to incubate new ideas, support the professional development of innovative thinkers, and deliver promising and effective solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges.

Please read more about the fellows and their proposals:

John Bae of the Vera Institute of Justice was selected as an Improving Corrections and Reintegration Under the Second Chance Act Fellow. Mr. Bae is a program manager with the Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative at the Vera Institute, which is one of the nation’s leading criminal justice advocacy organizations dedicated to ending the overcriminalization and mass incarceration of people of color, immigrants, and those experiencing poverty. He has done extensive work in the area of higher education for justice-involved individuals and has helped support justice reform efforts as a philanthropic advisor. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice. During his fellowship, he will focus on creating statewide blueprints in two states to strengthen the reentry continuum and on elevating the voices of formerly incarcerated people in national discussions on reentry practice and policy.

"Improving the lives of recently incarcerated people and the communities they’re returning to will take a collective effort from various stakeholders. I look forward to collaborating with different agencies and systems, communities and, most importantly, people impacted by incarceration to generate ideas to strengthen reentry ecosystems and improve reentry practices." — John Bae

Angel Sanchez was also selected as an Improving Corrections and Reintegration Under the Second Chance Act Fellow. Mr. Sanchez s a social justice advocate who has fought for greater access to education and voting rights for justice-involved individuals, working most recently with the Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition. When he was 16, Mr. Sanchez was sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempted murder. He served 12 years, obtained his GED while behind bars, and went on to attend Valencia Community College as a homeless student. He later graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida and earned his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. He has passed the D.C. bar exam and is awaiting admission into the bar. During his fellowship, he will focus on restoring and enhancing access to education for people with prior criminal justice involvement.

"As a formerly incarcerated individual, I am humbled and excited by the opportunity to serve as a Second Chance Act Fellow. This fellowship will give me the opportunity—and responsibility—of centralizing the voices of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals to ensure that their experiences inform our work and their insights illuminate blind spots and important areas we might have been neglecting." — Angel Sanchez

Jennifer Bronson of NRI was selected to serve as the Enhancing Efforts To Implement Cross-System Behavioral Health Programming Fellow. Dr. Bronson is Senior Director of Consulting and Research at NRI, a national nonprofit dedicated to conducting research to improve the lives of people with mental illness. She has 15 years of experience in behavioral health research and evaluation, including an earlier position as a correctional health statistician with OJP’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. She received a Ph.D. in Medical Sociology from Howard University. Dr. Bronson’s fellowship will focus on promoting the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic model as an opportunity to better integrate criminal justice and mental health systems and improving outcomes for justice-involved persons with behavioral health challenges.

"I have found through my initial research that integrated law enforcement and mental health responses to crisis calls improve outcomes not only for the individuals but for the officers themselves. I look forward to using this opportunity to build on my earlier findings and explore the potential of using this promising model." — Jennifer Bronson, Ph.D.

Sean Malinowski of the University of Chicago Crime Lab will serve as the Enhancing and Coordinating Strategies to Prevent and Respond to Violent Crime Fellow. Dr. Malinowski is Director of Policing Innovation and Reform at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and former Chief of Detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department. After spearheading an assessment of the Chicago Police Department’s crime-fighting infrastructure, he partnered with the Crime Lab and senior police leaders to propose and help institute improvements. He earned his Ph.D. in Public Administration from the University of Illinois and is a former Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Malinowski’s fellowship will focus on helping to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies to use data and analytics in day-to-day operations.

"I believe that smarter policing results in fewer victims and that we can reverse the current tide of violence both by doing and by learning. Through this fellowship opportunity with the Bureau Justice Assistance, I hope to contribute to the reduction of gun violence in America and to share lessons learned to improve outcomes nationally." — Sean Malinowski, Ph.D.

Danielle S. Rudes of George Mason University (GMU) was selected as the Enhancing Corrections Spaces & Cultures Fellow. Dr. Rudes is an Associate Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society and the Deputy Director of GMU’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!). She is a qualitative researcher with more than 20 years of experience working with court and corrections agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. She earned her doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Rudes’ fellowship will focus on collecting data on correctional cultures and spaces and using those findings to address gaps in federal training and technical resources.

"I am excited to begin focused and intentional work with correctional agencies to develop and transform jail and prison environments, physical spaces, and staff culture(s) to assist staff in their work contexts and residents with preparing for and successfully navigating reentry. My work will pay particular attention to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on institutional corrections settings." — Danielle S. Rudes, Ph.D.

Hear more from two of BJA's Visiting Fellows in following Justice Today podcast episode:

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Date Published: April 27, 2022