Columbia Justice Lab

Acting for community-centered justice

Grantee Cohort Fall 2019

Location New York

The Columbia University Justice Lab works for community-centered justice in which incarceration is no longer used as a solution to problems that are largely rooted in extreme poverty and racial inequality. Founded in 2017, the Justice Lab combines research expertise with effective policy innovation and collaboration with justice-involved people. Youth justice is its core focal area, as the Justice Lab seeks to dramatically shift away from applying adult or adult-like responses to system-involved youth, the vast majority of whom are poor youth of color. Specifically, the Justice Lab focuses on closing adult-like youth prisons and ending the automatic exclusion of older youth (emerging adults ages 18 to 25) from the rehabilitative aspects of the youth justice system. 

The Justice Lab used its past Art for Justice Fund grants to leverage art to guide, inform and propel juvenile justice reform. Through a community-based approach of building and strengthening partnerships with community art partners, it created the context for transformative youth justice reform. The Lab guided the work of partner states and localities to adopt equitable, effective and developmentally appropriate responses for justice-impacted youth, offering peer learning sessions for state justice leaders and partnerships with advocates and community groups.

The Justice Lab is also involved in two Art for Justice Activating Art and Advocacy grants.

It joined with grantee partner Performing Statistics and cinematographer and storyteller Wren Rene and the Amplifier Foundation to curate an educational video series that will outline the case for ending youth incarceration and the steps we can take to achieve this. This video series was included in the #NoKidsinPrison interactive web experience, providing a “one-stop shop” for people to access clearly articulated positions and recommendations for ending youth incarceration as well as emotionally visceral experiences told by system-impacted youth.

The Emerging Adult Justice Project at Columbia Justice Lab deepened its partnership with Echoes of Incarceration to produce a new youth-reported short film for its series, “Emerging Adult Journalists Explore Emerging Adult Justice.” The project investigated the consequences of counterproductive and excessive incarceration of young adults and outline solutions that could immediately decarcerate many. Emerging adults face a unique set of challenges to their wellbeing – obstacles that, if not navigated carefully, can forestall young adult development and greatly limit youths’ opportunities for the future. As emerging adults experience both the highest rates of criminal legal involvement, this critical advocacy tool was used to engage justice system stakeholders at all levels.