The University Law School announced Monday that it was the recipient of a grant of record-breaking size.
New York-based Edna McConnell Clark Foundation is donating $10 million to establish the Institute for Criminal Justice at the school. The grant is exceptional by national standards — it is the third-largest award ever given to a law school, and the largest ever awarded by a private foundation.
After an almost year-long search, the foundation chose to relocate its 10-year-old State-Centered Program to Minnesota. The name reflects the program’s emphasis on state criminal justice systems. Until now, the program was an active part of the Clark Foundation in New York.
The program will be the cornerstone of the new institute and will be an academic resource for policy-makers and administrators in the criminal justice system, said Thomas Sullivan, dean of the law school.
Kenneth Schoen, the Clark Foundation’s current director of the justice program, will leave the foundation and follow the State-Centered Program to the University, where he will join the faculty and serve as the new institute’s director.
“We looked at a number of schools and private institutions, and we chose Minnesota because they had the greatest interest,” he said. “They also had a number of faculty with background in criminal law.”
Schoen, who served as the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1973 to 1978, said he is happy to be returning to his home state after 18 years in the foundation, but that it was a coincidence Minnesota was chosen for the grant.
Although Schoen isn’t due at the law school until Nov. 1, the University has received the first installment of the grant. Some of the new institute’s research projects are already underway at the school.
The payments will be spread over the next six years, Sullivan said. “We will seek out other foundations and sources to fund the institute,” he said. “And we will keep it open as long as we believe it is helping solve the penal issues we face in this country.”
Schoen sees the institute as not only a think tank, but also as a hands-on research tool for the states to use when tackling sentencing and corrections problems.
The institute won’t advocate or promote particular legislation or programs, Schoen said, but it will provide case sensitive resources and ideas for states that request help in reforming their penal systems.
For example, Sullivan said, “It will study the conditions that cause judges to sentence prisoners for prison terms.”
Creating an institute at the law school is a major initiative, Sullivan said. The law school currently operates three other research centers, including the Institute on Race and Poverty, the Minnesota Human Rights Center, and the Center for Legal Studies. The Criminal Justice Institute will work in collaboration with these programs, Sullivan said. “I see some valuable opportunities for collaboration.”
In its announcement, the Clark Foundation praised the law school’s current resources. “The University of Minnesota Law School … will bring related experience from its Institute on Race and Poverty to bear on criminal justice issues and will put an increased emphasis on education and information exchange about corrections reform.”
The school might decide to add to its 40 full-time faculty members, Sullivan said. And though he doesn’t expect this to expand the school’s enrollment of 840 students, “Law school students will benefit from this institute because many students entering law school today have a particular interest in criminal justice issues.”
The subject of criminal justice system is very important to society, Sullivan said. “And with this institute, the U of M will play a leading role in criminal justice law issues.”
The Clark Foundation president, Michael Bailin, released a statement supporting the decision to open the institute at the University:
“There are more then 1.5 million people behind bars in the United States, and both the inmate population and corrections budgets continue to grow. If the State-Centered Program is to be successful in helping state officials improve the criminal justice system, it must be a long-term, concerted effort. With its extensive staff and operational capacity, as well as its faculty expertise in criminal justice policy, the law school is the kind of committed outside entity that can responsibly take this work into the future.”