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Michael Smith Named Executive Director of Law School's New Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

NOVEMBER 3, 2011—Dean David Wippman announced the appointment of Michael E. Smith, Haight-Bascom Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin, as executive director of the newly created Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice.

The new institute, supported by a major long-term grant from the Robina Foundation, will work with policy-makers, practitioners and a wide range of leading scholars to improve criminal justice systems that are widely recognized to be ineffective, overly costly, overly severe and insufficiently attentive to the needs and interests of victims. The institute will engage in interdisciplinary, policy-oriented study of the criminal justice system.

Michael Smith is one of America’s most creative developers of innovative public sector initiatives. During 16 years at the helm of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, he made the institute into a national laboratory for developing and testing new ideas. Successful Vera programs on pretrial diversion, work release, community service, financial penalties, and supported employment for recently released prisoners and mental health patients were replicated throughout the United States and in other countries.

The Minneapolis-based Robina Foundation was established by James H. Binger, a St. Paul native and 1941 graduate of the Minnesota Law School, shortly before his death in 2004. In creating the Foundation, Binger charged it to support projects with potential to transform existing institutions, policies and practices. The new Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice hopes to do just that. Its aim is to participate in the work of creating criminal justice systems fit for the 21st century and for the citizens of a contemporary democracy.

"We are delighted to have attracted someone of Michael Smith’s stature and experience to the new Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice," Wippman said. "Smith’s appointment enables the Law School to augment its already remarkable strength in criminal law and criminal justice and increase the odds that the new Robina Institute will be transformative, as Jim Binger would have wanted. 'Transformative' is a big word, not to be tossed about casually, but even so we expect the new institute to have transformative effects on the Law School and American legal education, and to play an important part in transforming the American criminal justice system into something of which Americans can be proud."

Renowned scholars Michael Tonry and Antony Duff head the new institute. Tonry, who came to the Law School in 1990, and for five years also headed the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, is one of the world’s leading experts on crime and public policy. Duff, who joined the Law School in 2010, is universally recognized as one of the world’s preeminent philosophers of the criminal law and punishment.

"The U.S. criminal justice system is in crisis," Tonry said. "America locks up its residents at rates far higher than those of other advanced democratic countries. Vast sums of taxpayers' money are spent on systems that are known to be ineffective, to produce massive racial and ethnic disparities, and to do unnecessary damage to offenders, their children, and their communities. Americans can do better."

The institute will focus its work on three core, interrelated program areas: criminal law theory, headed by Duff; criminal justice policy, led by Tonry; and sentencing law and practice, led by professors Richard Frase and Kevin Reitz. Projects in the three areas will be focused on documenting problems and developing practical, achievable, cost-effective solutions. Faculty will work closely with practitioners and policy-makers from Minnesota and elsewhere.

"An institute by itself can’t fix a system as massive, complex and deeply fractured as our criminal justice system," Duff said. "But we can stimulate a better recognition and understanding of the system’s problems. We can propose new ways of thinking about those problems and suggest approaches that might be effective in tackling them. By doing this, we can help transform the debate, among experts and the public, from which genuine reform may emerge."

For more information about the Robina Institute for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, please visit www.law.umn.edu/robinainstitute.html or contact Zach Hoskins, research fellow in the Institute, at zhoskins@umn.edu or (612) 625-6146.

 
 
 

Michael Smith

Michael Smith