As the Utah Criminal Justice Center at the University of Utah approaches its first anniversary, the Center’s co-directors, Russ Van Vleet and Erik Luna, sat down recently for a candid discussion focused on the Center’s ambitious goals, as well as the difficulties inherent in such an ambitious undertaking. How ambitious? Luna, Hugh B. Brown Chair in Law and Professor of Law, summarizes the Center’s goals as, “to address criminal justice issues in Utah, as well as national and international concerns, and to invite various disciplines to provide perspectives on the subject of criminal justice.”
As Luna explains, the concept of criminal justice invites a diverse set of inquiries, from “What things should be denominated as crime?” and “What factors lead to criminal behavior?” to “How do we interpret data on recidivism?” and “What are the practical uses for that data once it has been amassed and analyzed?”
Drawing on the expertise of the U’s faculty and graduate students, the Center is fast establishing a reputation for producing research that reflects rigorous academic standards under the tight timelines its government clients require. Luna and Van Vleet reveal that one of the Center’s critical goals is to bridge the gap between the University and the surrounding community. Judging from the reactions in academe and criminal justice, one gets the sense that the Center truly represents a new, cooperative approach – and that its arrival is long overdue.
“The Center will add tremendously to smart criminal and juvenile justice policy as well as preparing future practitioners,” declares Ed McConkie,