University of Pennsylvania Law School receives $15 million gift to establish center studying justice fairness

By Jon Campisi | May 30, 2013

The University of Pennsylvania Law School announced this week that it plans to establish a national research and policy center designed to study the fair administration of justice,

thanks to a generous donation from a charitable organization.

The Philadelphia-based university recently received a $15 million gift from The Frank and Denise Quattrone Foundation, whose trustees and namesakes are Penn grads and Philly natives.

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice will catalyze long-term structural improvements to the United States criminal justice system, the university stated in a May 28 news release announcing the multi-million dollar donation.

The center will take an “interdisciplinary, data-driven, scientific approach to identifying and analyzing the most crucial problems in the justice system, and proposing solutions that improve its fairness for the long-term benefit of society,” the school said in its news release. “It will conduct independent, unbiased research and programs engaging all parties – academia, judiciary, law enforcement, defense attorneys, prosecutors, legislators, forensic and social scientists, media, and other participants – required to effect substantial change for the better.”

The Quattrone center, billed as the first of its kind in the nation, will focus exclusively on inter-disciplinary, data-driven research and policy recommendations designed to prevent “unjust outcomes” in the country’s criminal justice system.

“The fundamental accuracy and fairness of the American criminal justice system was once taken for granted,” the school stated. “In recent years, however, scientific advances such as those in DNA testing have challenged our idealism by revealing errors in findings of guilt and innocence, with significant consequences to individuals, families, and the system as a whole.”

Examination by legal scholars and attorneys across the country has also led to the conclusion that a wider variety and higher occurrence of errors exist within the system, the university stated, which can erode the public’s faith that true justice can be achieved.

“The Quattrone Center is being established with one fundamental purpose: to advance the fairness of our justice system by deepening our understanding of the most crucial issues affecting its performance and proposing improvements that will ensure a just process for all,” University of Pennsylvania Law School Dean Michael A. Fitts said in a statement released by the school. “It will extend to justice the same revolution in evidence-based approaches and outcomes that are already taking place in medicine and education, by evaluating the justice system broadly to determine why systemic problems occur and how best to address them for the long term.”

The center, which will be situated on the campus of the law school, will involve the work of the school’s business, communications, criminology, engineering, medicine and public health, and social sciences departments.

Penn President Amy Gutmann called the center “uniquely structured,” saying in a statement that by integrating “world-class scholarship from across the University with the perspectives of nationally prominent practitioners, the Center will formulate analysis and recommendations that will shape public deliberations and improve the fairness of our legal system.”

The center, which is slated to host conferences, symposia, workshops, roundtables and other scholarly events, will also incorporate student involvement.

Possible areas to be studied at the center, according to Penn Law, include the causes of, and potential to reduce or eliminate, wrongful criminal convictions; redress for victims of institutional misconduct; evaluating the science behind forensic practices; prosecutorial incentives and accountability; and the roles of politics, economics and the media with respect to justice system fairness.

“Our system of justice may very well be the best in the world, but with each passing day the frequency and sometimes tragic consequences of its mistakes, as well as the risk of random unfair outcomes for all Americans, are becoming better understood,” Frank Quattrone, one of the two people behind the gift, said in a statement. “It is our profound wish that this new Center will serve as a world class policy hub for researching and debating the system’s most crucial problems, as well as in developing concrete, credible, evidence-based solutions to catalyze long-term structural improvements.”

The Frank and Denise Quattrone Foundation was established in 2002 by Frank Quattrone and Denise Foderaro to improve the human condition through technological, social and artistic innovation, according to Penn.

It provides grants for educational scholarships, medical research, science and technology, social justice, the environment and the arts.

Quattrone himself is co-founder and CEO of Qatalyst Group, a global investment bank in the business of advising technology companies on mergers and acquisitions.

Foderaro, a occupational therapist by trade, advocates for social justice issues and serves as a research assistant for the National Registry of Exonerations, according to the university.

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