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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Overview of ABF Research (Part I): Criminal Justice, Legal Education & the Profession

In my previous post, I highlighted some ABF research that was on display at LSA. I’m sure I missed several other ABF-related panels at the conference. Even so, the LSA panels reflect only part of the ABF’s broader research portfolio. Let me mention some other projects. At its core, the ABF is an empirical and interdisciplinary research institute, and thus most of our research goes beyond purely doctrinal or theoretical questions to analyze “law in action,” as the legal realists put it. In this and the next set of posts, I’ll describe a few clusters of our research that reflect this focus on how law operates in society and on the ground.

Criminal Justice

Since its founding in the 1950s, the ABF has had a strong research focus on criminal justice. One of the ABF’s first projects, funded in large part by the Ford Foundation, explored the processing of offenders from arrest to prison. Led by Frank J. Remington, this study culminated in a scholarly edited volume (Discretion in Criminal Justice), as well as a larger publication (A Plane for a Survey) that highlighted the many areas of discretionary decision-making in the criminal justice system (thanks to former ABF doctoral fellow Meredith Roundtree for pointing me to this storied history).

More recently, ABF scholars have been continuing the tradition of analyzing criminal justice issues. Several are conducting research on the social and political implications of mass incarceration. ABF Research Professor and Northwestern Sociologist John Hagan and his co-author Holly Foster (Texas A&M) have been documenting how parental incarceration of non-violent offenders has had tremendous deleterious effects on children. With support from the National Science Foundation, the ABF held a White House Conference on this important topic. Similarly, Traci Burch (ABF/Northwestern Political Science) in her recent award-winning book (Trading Democracy for Justice) has shown the pervasive political and social consequences of mass incarceration, and how the criminal justice system has helped reproduce massive inequality.

Another area of ABF research related to criminal justice is Jim Heckman’s work on early childhood interventions. Jim, who is a U. of Chicago Nobel laureate economist and an ABF Research Professor, has been investigating how investments in early education and healthcare for disadvantaged children from birth to age 5 can have significant long-term effects on boosting graduation rates, improving health outcomes, and reducing violent crime. In a sense, Jim is studying ways to break down the school-to-prison pipeline that has been preoccupying many criminologists and lawmakers.

Legal Education & the Profession

In a previous post, I mentioned the ABF’s signature “After the JD” project, which continues the Foundation’s hallmark work on the legal profession. Directly connected to this line of research is more recent work on legal education. Beth Mertz (ABF/Wisconsin Law) has long been studying the relationship between language and the law. In recent years, she has been examining how law schools operate as a site for the training of lawyers in the language of law. Her award-winning book, The Language of Law Schools, draws on deep ethnographies to explain the important role of language in the socialization of law students.   Beth is following up that earlier project with new research on the post-tenure experience of U.S. law professors.

In a similar vein, ABF Research Professor Steve Daniels has been conducting research on many aspects of the legal profession and legal education. Following up on his recent book (co-authored with Joanne Martin) about the Texas plaintiff’s bar, Steve is currently working on changing patterns within legal education. With support from the Access Group, Steve will be building on his experience as a consultant for the ABA’s Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education to explore how law schools have been responding to the current challenges facing legal education.

Criminal Justice and Legal Education & the Profession are just two historically prominent areas of ABF research. In my next post, I’ll describe other more recent areas of research.

Posted by Ajay K. Mehrotra on June 7, 2016 at 07:47 PM in Books, Criminal Law, Culture, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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