Criminal Justice Change

The Office of Government and Community Affairs works with a variety of University and community partners on issues of justice in education and criminal justice change in order to help address a need in the Upper Manhattan community. By building connections between the theoretical work, research, and programs at Columbia and the work being done in the community, GCA aims to facilitate the creation of a more robust understanding of and network to address incarceration, reentry, and their economic impacts within the community.

Through the work of Flores Forbes, Associate Vice President of Community Affairs, who has written extensively on incarceration and reentry, GCA has been a leader in the conversation about criminal justice reform on campus, introducing the topic of removing the exception clause from the 13th amendment, as well as supporting the annual Beyond the Bars conference, the second-largest event held at Columbia every year. 

To accomplish these goals, GCA works with numerous university and community partners, listed below.

Special Initiatives

The ReEntry Acceleration Program (REAP) at Columbia Business School trains MBA students to deliver business training to incarcerated individuals, develops tools for potential employers, and creates forums for new relationships to shape a solutions-focused dialog around post-incarceration employment.

Visit the REAP website to learn more.

The Center for Justice at Columbia University is committed to reducing the nation’s reliance on incarceration and advancing alternative approaches to safety and justice through education, research and policy. Its mission is to help transform a criminal justice system from one that is driven by punishment and retribution to one that is centered on prevention and healing. The Center is interdisciplinary and built around community collaboration. It works in partnership with schools, departments, centers and institutes across Columbia, other universities, government agencies, community organizations, advocates and those directly affected by the criminal justice system.

Initiatives include:

Learn more about all the programs at the Center for Justice website.

The Justice Lab combines original research, policy development, and community engagement to propel the project of justice reform. In our vision, justice depends on peaceful and healthy communities that help all their members to flourish in a climate of fairness and respect. We work for a community-centered justice, in which incarceration is no longer used as a solution to problems that are often rooted in poverty and racial inequality.

Learn more at the Columbia Justice Lab Website.

The mission of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University (CSLC) is to facilitate interdisciplinary study, research, and scholarship on the intersections of law and culture.

Starting from the twin premises that law is a cultural form and that culture carries the regulative force of legal practices and norms, the CSLC seeks to advance a wide range of work in law and culture studies. Embracing an expansive definition of culture as a concept whose boundaries range from the aesthetic to the political, the CSLC supports projects that understand law in a strict institutional or positivist sense, as well as those that approach law more generally as a regime for ordering social life, constructing cultural meaning, and shaping group and individual identities. 

CLSC projects emanate from the understanding that law can no longer be adequately analyzed as though it were exogenous to the realm of culture. In keeping with its broad mandate, the CSLC offers an intellectual home for teaching, research, and scholarship across disciplines.

Learn more at the Center for the Study of Law and Culture website. 

The Center undertakes multi-method, collaborative research projects with innovative institutions and individuals pursuing full participation and institutional citizenship goals, within and across specific institutional settings. Their research methodology includes qualitative and participatory action research, surveys, network and stakeholder mapping, and collaborative inquiry.

Learn more at the Center for Institutional and Social Change website. 

The Justice-in-Education Initiative works with other university and community-based organizations to conduct courses, workshops, and creative projects on campus, in local prisons, and at the Rikers Island jail complex. Our programs open channels of communication and collaboration between Columbia faculty and students, communities affected by incarceration, and the public at large for a more just and socially conscious system of higher education.

Learn more at the Justice in Education Initiative website


Dr. Alwyn Cohall, who teaches in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Mailman School of Public Health with a focus on incarceration prevention and urban health. He’s also the director of the Harlem Health Promotion Center.

Geraldine Downey, the Director of the Center for Justice, and a member of the Faculty Working Group of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, the Faculty Steering Committee of the Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, and the University Task Force on Just Societies.

Robert Fullilove, the Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at Mailman School of Public Health, who teaches in the Bard Prison Initiative.

Bernard E. Harcourt, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Columbia Law School, who is the founding director of the Initiative for a Just Society at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought. 

Carl Hart, the Chair of the Department of Psychology, who mentors formerly incarcerated people studying in his field and teaches in the prison education program. 

Laura Kurgan, an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the Center for Spatial Research. Her work on mapping is used in criminal justice research. 

Leah Meisterlin, an urbanist, GIS methodologist, and Assistant Professor in Urban Planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation who also teaches in Rikers.

Christia Mercer, the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy, and the first professor to teach in Taconic Correctional Facility as part of the Justice-in-Education initiative.

Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University, where he works to assist in the transformation and closure of Rikers Island, the implementation of legislation raising the age of New York’s family court to 18, the creation of a more developmentally appropriate system of justice for young adults through research and promotional efforts, and research, convenings and policy development on closing youth prisons and shrinking the footprint of probation and parole.

Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law and a founder of Amend the 13th, whose work focuses on focus on critical race theory, legal philosophy, feminist legal theory, and law and sexuality. He also serves as the director director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture.

Bruce Western, Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University, whose research has examined the causes, scope, and consequences of the historic growth in U.S. prison populations.