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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Justice Collaboratory Starts Partnership with Connecticut Department of Correction

The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School recently started on a promising new partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Correction, supported by the Tow Foundation and the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation. The project will begin by training correctional officers in procedural justice, and subsequently test the impact of the training and associated practices through a rigorous evaluation.

“In most correctional settings, staff rely heavily on their power and authority to generate compliance among incarcerated persons,” said Tom R. Tyler, the Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and a Founding Director of the Justice Collaboratory. “Procedural justice, on the other hand, speaks to the idea of compliance and cooperation through trust and legitimacy.”

Trust and legitimacy, as a vast body of research has demonstrated, are impacted by the quality of interactions between individuals and authorities, much more so than the final outcome of these interactions. Four central tenets characterize procedurally just encounters: transparency, voice, respect, and trustworthiness — all elements that impact one’s compliant behavior and cooperation with legal authorities deemed legitimate.

In this project, Justice Collaboratory researchers aim to leverage procedural justice and legitimacy research to incentivize practices that improve human dignity in prisons, namely by giving incarcerated persons a voice, demonstrating to them respect, being transparent about decision-making, and conveying that correction officers have trustworthy motives. Moreover, the overall goal is to improve communications and trust-building interactions between correctional staff and incarcerated persons, decreasing the numbers of conflicts and incidents, while also improving correction officers’ wellness, safety, and job satisfaction.

To this end, the principal investigators — Tyler and Arielle Baskin-Sommers, Associate Professor of Psychology and of Psychiatry at Yale University — have partnered with Emily LaGratta of LaGratta Consulting, another national subject matter expert and trainer on procedural justice, to develop, pilot, and evaluate a new procedural justice training for correction officers.

This partnership is an example of how the state of Connecticut continues to be a national front-runner in efforts to improve corrections, following other well-known initiatives such as the TRUE Unit at Cheshire Correctional Institute, according to those involved.

“The Connecticut Deptment of Correction is a leader in taking steps to reform correctional practice. We are excited to partner with them on a project that enhances correctional officer communication in ways that will promote correctional officer and incarcerated individuals’ well-being,” said Baskin-Sommers.

The Justice Collaboratory brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and researchers at Yale University and elsewhere to work on issues related to institutional reform and policy innovation and advancement. The Collaboratory infuses theory and empirical research in order to achieve its goal of making the components of criminal justice operation simultaneously more effective, just, and democratic.