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Myths of Public Safety: Parole

The overarching theme of this year's speaker series is Myths of Public Safety. Myths abound about what public safety is and how it is achieved. These myths have been the basis of efforts toward mass incarceration, aided in the destruction of lives and communities, and fed huge racial disparities—all the while, research shows, making the public less safe.

We will be joined by guests who have helped to debunk these myths. Through discussions about both lived experience and innovative research, we hope to guide policymakers, practitioners, advocates, researchers, and community members in envisioning new practices, procedures, and policies that will bring about safe and thriving communities for all.

In the spring we focused on Parole. 

These event were recorded and the videos will be posted here soon.

Mass Supervision: Fix it, Shrink it, or Abolish it?
Vincent Schiraldi,
Secretary of Juvenile Services, State of Maryland
Wednesday, February 15

What Process is Due? Community Organizing to Transform Parole
Michelle Lewin
, Executive Director, Parole Preparation Project
Anthony Dixon, Director of Community Engagement, Parole Preparation Project
Lisa Berland, Volunteer with Parole Watch Massachusetts
Wednesday, March 22

Presumptive Parole: New Jersey’s Experience and the Need for Continued Reform
Joseph J. Russo
, First Assistant Public Defender, New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
Alicia Hubbard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
Wednesday, April 12

Parole and Reentry Start Inside: How Institutional Rules, Discipline, and Programs Drive Racial Disparities in Parole
LaToya Whiteside
, Director of Racial Equity in Corrections Initiative at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Jasmin Borges, Formerly Incarcerated Expert and Activist, Advocate, and Organizer, Massachusetts Bail Fund
Wednesday, April 26

Does Perpetual Punishment Produce Safety? Executive Mercy and Access to Clemency 
Rachel Barkow
, Charles Seligson Professor of Law; Faculty Director, Peter L. Zimroth Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, NYU School of Law
Wednesday, May 10

Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator and co-organizer  of  the Myths of  Public Safety speaker series.

 Sandra Susan Smith, is the co-organizer of the The Myths of  Public Safety speaker series. She is the Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.

Watch videos of our Myths of Public Safety: Pretrial fall speaker series.


A Reimagined Public Safety: The Case of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation

Jasmine Nicole Olivier, Researcher, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago 

Wednesday, April 19

Jasmine OlivierThis event was recorded and the video will be posted here soon.

Following high-profile incidents of police brutality across the United States, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers have called for a reimagining of public safety. In cities, such as Milwaukee (WI), Portland (OR), Los Angeles (CA), Minnesota (MN) and NY (NY), public safety reform has taken various forms, including the development of offices of violence prevention, grassroot-led efforts by community-based organizations, and the establishment of mobile crisis response teams. Importantly, however, these various public safety efforts differ in how much agency historically marginalized communities have over the decisions and the policies that impact their safety and quality of life. This is especially pertinent in partnerships between marginalized communities and the government, which have been historically rooted in distrust. To understand how to enhance community-centered public safety within marginalized communities in the present, it is imperative that scholars and policymakers examine the successes and limitations of past efforts. 

Drawing on interview, archival, ethnographic, and police administrative data collected over the course of 24 months, Jasmine Olivier, a Researcher at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, explores how Boston public housing residents developed community-centered approaches to public safety from the late 1960s to the early 2000s in direct response to local government neglect and police violence. This sociological examination of community-centered public safety within Boston public housing centers on the case of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) (1971-2012), which controlled managerial functions and formed its own security patrol at Mildred C. Hailey apartments. The study of the Bromley-Heath TMC argues that while not a perfect solution to the public safety concerns, community controlled public safety has the potential to lead to significant improvements in neighborhood safety, community empowerment, and quality of life within marginalized communities. 


We Live Amongst Each Other: Small-Town Policing and Acquainted Marginality

David Showalter, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Sociology Department 

Wednesday, March 29

David Showalter

This event was recorded and the video will be posted here soon.

In rural and remote places, law enforcement officers often live in close proximity to the people they police and may be personally acquainted with them. In their current research, David Showalter adapts Erving Goffman’s analysis of face-to-face interaction to conceptualize this condition as “acquainted marginality,” which helps law enforcement gather information about potential suspects through everyday interactions and overlapping social networks. Showalter illustrates how acquainted marginality influenced the behavior of law enforcement as well as people who used illicit drugs using interviews and ethnographic fieldwork in a small and remote California town. Despite limited organizational capacity, acquainted marginality helped law enforcement investigate and arrest several members of the drug scene, which interrupted some people's attempts to use drugs more safely. These findings show how acquainted marginality can be a resource for law enforcement but also an obstacle to public health efforts.


The Ethnographic Realities of Police Reform: Scenario Trainings and Police Common Sense

Jessica Katzenstein, Harvard Inequality in America Initiative Postdoctoral Fellow
Wednesday, February 1

This event was recorded and the video will be posted here soon.

Jessica Katenstein

Police reform advocates often press police departments to shift away from fear-laden “warrior” survival trainings and toward reality-based or scenario trainings, which involve immersively role-playing scenarios such as making an arrest. Scenario trainings promise to teach officers to suppress fear, counter racial bias, and calibrate “reasonable” uses of force. Drawing on 16 months of ethnographic research with police officers in Maryland, Jessica Katzenstein explores how physical and virtual scenario trainings shape and even intensify officer fear rather than suppressing it. Police learn to “think threat first,” even in the most ordinary situations, and to assert command presence, an embodied language of authority whose ultimate object is the poor Black civilian. Moreover, scenario trainings that use virtual reality technology—often vaunted as a cutting edge of police reform—tend to produce an airtight certainty that threat could have been present, rendering inevitable the force required to stop it. Jessica argues that scenario trainings recruit officers into what she calls “police common sense,” a nominally colorblind framework that transforms anti-Black police violence into a mere technical concern and asserts the primacy of officer survival. We discussed why police training reforms often fail to accomplish their goals, and even worsen the problems they aim to solve.


Program in Criminal Justice Graduate Student Research Showcase

Wednesday, January 25

This event was recorded and the video will be posted here soon.

Chika Okafor and Nicolette Bardele

On January 25 we hosted a panel discussion with two of the recipients of  the 2022 Program in Criminal Justice Graduate Student Research Grants. The award process was open to PhD candidates from any of the units on Harvard’s campus conducting research to address questions related to the criminal legal system. Priority was given to students whose findings have the potential to shape policy.  We were joined by Chika Okafor to discuss his research “Exploring Prosecutor Behavior and Its Impact on Society" and Nicolette Bardele, who is looking at “Spatial Variation in Community Supervision and Probation/Parole Agents’ Work Experiences.” The discussion was moderated by Sandra Susan Smith, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice.


2/27/23: A Conversation About Policing and Racial Justice

Event poster for 2/27/23 Policing and Racial Justice event

Monday, February 27, 2023 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm Eastern

Please join us for an important conversation about policing and racial justice with Cornell William Brooks, professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice at Harvard Kennedy School, Yanilda María González, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Sandra Susan Smith, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice at Harvard Kennedy School. Setti Warren, interim director of the Institute of Politics, will moderate.

 A recording of this event is available on the IOP YouTube page.