Client News

Tallahassee Democrat: ‘Smarter justice’ goal of new Project on Accountable Justice

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Allison DeFoor is pushing for a sea change in the way decisions are made involving the criminal-justice system.

DeFoor, a former Monroe County sheriff turned lobbyist (and Wakulla County representative on Tallahassee Community College’s trustee board) wants data and evidence to be at the heart of the justice system, much like they have become with education in Florida.

“The idea of anybody being held accountable in criminal justice for outcome measures is pretty alien,” DeFoor said.

He is hoping to change that with the Project on Accountable Justice (PAJ), a new bi-partisan, independent organization headquartered at Florida State University. PAJ includes among its member institutions Baylor University, the Florida Public Safety Institute at TCC and St. Petersburg College. DeFoor is chairman of the organization’s board.

He said PAJ aims to be politically neutral — “We’re going to be Switzerland” — as it seeks to gather data that have not been studied in relation to the justice system.

“The goal is pretty simple: Less crime for less money,” he said. “In Florida we’re putting as much general revenue into corrections as we are the state university system.”

Byron Johnson, director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior at Baylor, is one of PAJ’s board members. He earned a doctorate in criminology at FSU eight years ago and is the author of the book “More God, Less Crime.”

He believes the justice system is long overdue for an evidence-based overhaul. Johnson also is sure that the data that PAJ will be focusing on are likely to be unpopular.

“I suspect our findings will make conservatives and liberals very uncomfortable, and everybody in between. That’s good. If you can do that, I think you’re beginning to have an impact,” Johnson said.

DeFoor, Johnson and other board members believe proper reform can’t happen without reams of research, which must be studied and analyzed.

“PAJ is dedicated to curbing our current trajectory of expensive, outdated practices of mass incarceration and refocusing our justice system on ending victimization, turning lives around, rebuilding families and saving taxpayer dollars — all in an effort to enhance public safety,” said Deborrah Brodsky, PAJ’s director. “We have a tremendous opportunity to turn poor outcomes and difficult policies into stronger public interest models that can be used in Florida, and throughout the country.”

Jim Murdaugh, TCC’s president and a PAJ board member, is eager to see PAJ lead the way to dramatic reductions in recidivism. Head of the Florida Public Safety Institute before he was promoted to TCC president in October 2010, Murdaugh helped the Midway facility become the site for a yet unopened re-entry prison.

At the request of Gov. Rick Scott’s staff, TCC has submitted a proposal to provide literacy and job-skill training at the re-entry prison, with the goal of making inmates more likely to find employment once they are released.

“This is the part of (PAJ) that interests me the most,” Murdaugh said. “If the college can contribute to that, I think it’s a wonderful role for the college to play.”

« Return to News