Justice, Health, and Democracy

The Justice, Health, and Democracy Initiative (JHD) at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics seeks to help make sustainable and durable the efforts of academics, practitioners, and policy-makers to move the needle in criminal justice and drug policy reform to center human health and well-being instead of punishment as the guiding paradigm. 

In order to achieve this: 

  • We conduct research on alternatives to current models of addressing issues like substance use disorder via a criminal justice paradigm, focusing in particular on arrest diversion programs that direct substance users to health programs.  

  • We support innovation in general education and professional education curricula in the direction of preparing practitioners to work with an individual and public health and wellbeing paradigm for responding to social problems.  

  • We seek to weave together the research community and practitioner community in cross-ideological collaborations to share learnings and drive reform in the criminal justice space, via Washington D.C. based briefings for Capitol Hill staffers and staffers affiliated with the National Governor’s Association. 

JHD is a team of academics across Harvard who are leaders in their fields of law, health, criminal justice, and public policy who have been independently researching subsets of our problem; an evaluation team from the Crime and Justice Institute of Community Resources for Justice in Boston, MA; practitioners in partner organizations such as the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative; research partners at other universities; and policy-maker partners at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights and American Enterprise Institute. The project launch has been generously supported by the Ford Foundation. 

Permanently shifting drug control strategies from a criminal justice to a public health paradigm will require defining: (1) the treatment practices and non-arrest strategies that work; (2) the statutory frameworks that will enable the transition to a public health paradigm; (3) the spectrum of feasible governance structures at municipal and state levels; (4) the training necessary for police, justice, and prosecutors to exercise discretion at key points in interactions with drug offenders; and (5) the expertise (legal, medical, policy, public health, and governance) that is necessary to sustain a new public-health based paradigm over time. 

We work with local discretionary authorities to combine theoretical and practical expertise in support of efforts to develop, implement, and spread to scale diversion strategies to redirect non-violent drug offenders into social services for addiction recovery. We are building on emergent interest among policy makers, prepared by the success of drug courts and now inspired by the opioid crisis, in a shift from a criminal justice to a public health paradigm for addressing control of illegal substances.