The University of South Florida announced the launch of an interdisciplinary center dedicated to serving Tampa Bay as the major training and knowledge hub for issues related to social and criminal justice. The Center for Justice Research & Policy unites scholars and practitioners from colleges across USF’s three campuses, area law enforcement agencies, and community advocates. Together, they provide learning opportunities for students, collaborative community-engaged research, and actionable, evidence-based solutions to address some of the justice system’s greatest challenges.
The center is funded in part by a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Justice awarded to co-directors Edelyn Verona, professor of psychology, and Bryanna Fox, associate professor of criminology. The grant is consistent with the center’s mission to apply rigorous research to advance evidence-based criminal justice practices.
“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.”
“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,” Verona said. “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 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Tampa Bay Rays/Tampa Bay Rowdies organizations have each provided a $25,000 gift to the USF Foundation to support projects involving the evaluation and implementation of police reform. The teams have publicly expressed concerns over social injustices in the Black community.
“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are proud to support the new USF Center for Justice Research & Policy,” said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner. “Our players and staff are steadfast in their commitment to creating programs and enhancing initiatives that reverse the course of systemic injustice. It takes all of us to foster an equitable society, and we will continue to work hand in hand with our community partners to implement purposeful change throughout Tampa Bay.”
“We are delighted at the opportunity to partner – along with our friends at the Rays and Bucs – with USF to make training and learning opportunities available for the Tampa Bay community,” said Steve Griggs, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Ensuring that courageous conversations like these are ongoing is incredibly important for continuing to advance our community. The Lightning remains committed to ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table and this new USF social and criminal justice center will do just that.”
“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 & Tampa Bay Rowdies Vice Chairman Brian Auld. “We are proud to support their work.”
Several projects are 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. The formal partnership follows her review of feedback provided by the Mayor’s Community Task Force on Policing.
“USF has been an incredible partner in our mission to embrace progressive policies here in Tampa. This new research center will allow USF to continue the important work of understanding the barriers to equity and how we can break them down together. They have already made significant contributions to nationwide conversations on social justice and this center will be another opportunity to further those conversations that are key to progress,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said. “We are proud to be home to this top research university that continues to lead the way and make a positive, long-lasting impact.”
The center’s leadership team has vast expertise in crime prevention, substance abuse, juvenile justice, gun violence, human trafficking, forensic anthropology, and the court system. In addition to research, they’ll 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.
Undergraduate and graduate USF students with varying majors will have the opportunity to collaborate through the center and participate in translational, community-engaged research, and help identify practical applications for their findings. This experience will serve as a model for their future work as scholars and practitioners.
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.