Center for Justice - Photo by Kerrigan Stark

On Nov. 10, I ventured to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Justice for a ground-breaking announcement involving BGSU and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). The room was full of BGSU’s top faculty that had gathered to hear this crucial meeting. I took a seat as BCI’s Eminent Scholar, Jon Sprague, approached the crowd and began his introduction.

“We gather here today to formally establish the Attorney General’s Center for Justice research.”

He informed the audience that BGSU was chosen out of multiple schools to lead this program, however researchers from all over the state are being given the honor to conduct their studies here. Sprague went on to explain the purpose of the Center for Justice.

“...Researchers from across the state of Ohio are invited to assist BGSU...from the Attorney General’s office in conducting this research to help inform, debate, [and make] policy decisions for the state of Ohio.”

BGSU President Rodney Rodgers took the podium to explain the collaborative efforts on this project. He began with an anecdotal remark about the deep partnership between BGSU and the BCI, all starting from its humble beginnings with the Center for Advanced Forensic Science in March of 2012. Rodgers continued.

“It is a great example of the power of a public university and a public state agency coming together to serve Ohio...This center will be absolutely a great learning experience for our students.”

He went on to describe how BGSU is a “public university for the public good,” and the Center for Justice would be an innovative addition to creating a better campus, city and state. The floor was then given to the 51st Attorney General of Ohio, Dave Yost.

“I am really pumped about this.”

The crowd giggled at his excited rendition. He described the overall confusion COVID-19 has brought to others, and the importance of science as what truly causes improvements to society through the implementation of data-driven conclusions. Yost made a direct comparison of the pandemic to the justice system of Ohio and went along to explain the science that functions to teach us.

“Trust the science. Science is not God. Science is not our spouse. It is not a matter of trust. Science is a way of describing the world around us. It's a way of describing what we can observe and measure and understand about the relationships between things and how they operate...But science doesn’t tell you anything about policy trade-offs.”

This comment had the faculty spread amongst the seats in front of him particularly intrigued.

“Policy requires evaluating many things about our society living together and how we're going to expend limited resources. How we’re going to order our relationships between each other [and] our institutions...Science doesn’t really drive those decisions; it informs them in the best of all possible situations. We’re trying to get closer to that best possibility with the Center for Justice research.”

Yost explained that there is not one cause of criminal justice issues we see today, and top academics within criminal justice and sociology start with an issue and dive deep into how this problem impacts everyone differently.

“We’re going to be asking very specific questions that we’re looking for the answers to that involve public debate. We’ll still be relying on the researchers to propose methodologies and how to approach the thing, how to test it, how to control for variables, how to actually do the research.”

Yost emphasized that the goal will be to solve very specific issues, which would offer solutions to pieces of the state and even the world’s bigger problems. He offered an example faced by many of those who have been in the justice system, which is problems with bail.

“I fully support the presumption of innocence. Right when you’re accused of a crime, you’re still innocent even after you’re indicted and you’re gonna go to court. You stand in front of the jury as an innocent person, and the government has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you are in fact guilty of that crime.”

The question Yost proposed is along the lines of why people are left in jail for extraneous amounts of time when they are supposed to be innocent according to the justice system. Legislatures of Ohio truly wish to reform bail, and it is an ongoing discussion for the policy-makers.

“Now we have a great opportunity to stop having opinions and actually get some research and find some answers.”

The Ohio Attorney General described how a great example of how the idea of bail reform could work was when the Coronavirus impacted the amount of people who could be put in jail in order to prevent the spreading of the sickness. Most people were released without bonds, and Yost suggested this made a heavy impact on recidivism. He called upon more researchers to get involved and to see if this, along with many other future implementations, will cause a positive change in the community. He concluded his speech and ushered for Dr. John Boman, a criminologist and associate sociology professor of BGSU to provide more information.

“I am absolutely honored to have been selected as the first director for the Center for Justice research...Operationally, what we’re going to be doing is funding competitive research with other institutions...on issues that are going to be pertinent and relevant immediately to the state of Ohio.”

Boman spoke on how they will work alongside the Attorney General to provide policies that will have a positive impact upon the moment it is enacted with the utmost urgency.

“When a policy is immediately does three things. First off, it improves public safety...Secondly, because of the improvement of public safety, it decreases stress on a population...And number three, effective policies are physically responsible policies. If you have a policy that does exactly what you want it to do, right out of the beginning, you don’t have to take a step back and rethink things on the back end of it. It’s doing what it's intended to do.”

Boman would go on to say that this program is something that has never been accomplished before, and he truly believes that Attorney General Dave Yost shares the same ideas for reform that they would like to see made a reality. Boman then began his closing statements.

“The center is unique because it integrates science directly into the day-to-day operations of justice administration in the state of Ohio.”

I don’t know about any of you that are reading this, but I find the idea of a new look into the issues of Criminal Justice absolutely refreshing. I can’t wait to see the changes this team makes for a better BG and perhaps a better world.

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