Can This UVa Law Project Improve Criminal Justice?

Sep 11, 2017

Brandon Garrett's specialties include criminal procedure, wrongful convictions, and constitutional law. Together with Professors Richard Bonnie and John Monahan, he founded the new Virginia Criminal Justice Policy Reform Project, that seeks to improve Virginia's criminal justice system.

A new project at UVa's law school aims to improve the criminal justice system, based on a thorough study of criminal justice data. WMRA's Marguerite Gallorini talked to Professor Brandon Garrett, a member of the project’s leadership team.

Wrongful convictions, false confessions, mental health: these are some of the issues of interest for the Virginia Criminal Justice Policy Reform Project, from the UVa School of Law. Professor Brandon Garrett, specializing in criminal law, is one of its founders.

BRANDON GARRETT: The goal of this project is to look across the entire criminal justice system in Virginia, and look at the places where we could collect data or we could have better-informed and more evidence-based solutions, and we thought that policy-makers would welcome that – judges as well, or Commonwealth attorneys and defense lawyers.

He teamed up with Professors John Monahan, a psychologist who works on risk assessment in sentencing, and Richard Bonnie, who focuses on mental illness and criminal justice. For its first year, the project received a $145,000 grant from the Charles Koch Institute, to research sentencing of non-violent offenders.

GARRETT: There are certain offenders in Virginia, where judges have the option of giving them an alternative to incarceration. But judges don't always follow those recommendations. We just want to get a better sense of the practice because there are many thousands of people that are potentially affected.

The Law School will start a new Spring course to involve students as well. They will collect data and research concrete problems of Virginia’s criminal justice system, and make policy recommendations on those.

GARRETT: We're also hoping to do work at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice. For example this past summer, they started doing mental health screenings at the jails in Virginia, and so there are opportunities to study how some of those changes are being implemented in the field.