Tackling Inequalities in Criminal Justice

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As a professor of justice administration at Texas Southern University (TSU) in Houston, Howard Henderson had long wanted to create a criminal justice research center. The nation needs research on issues ranging from overcrowded prisons to racially biased sentencing, and TSU—a historically black institution—could analyze data through a culturally sensitive lens. “There are questions we can ask that others haven’t thought about, or that they may be politically inclined not to ask,” he says.

Henderson’s vision became a reality this past January when TSU opened the Center for Justice Research, funded with $2.7 million from the Center for Advancing Opportunity, an initiative supported by the Charles Koch Foundation, Koch Industries, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The center brings together researchers in criminal justice, law, forensic science, neuroscience, and computer science and has already launched numerous research projects that analyze data from Houston and the wider Harris County, the nation’s third-largest county with a population of more than 4.5 million. Analyzing local data rather than just national data makes the center’s work distinct. “Few people look at issues on a local level, which is where the majority of criminal justice takes place,” says Henderson, the center’s director. “You can’t just say African-Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented throughout the system. You have to understand the why. That’s the piece we never talk about and what we’re trying to answer,” says Henderson.