June 9, 2023 – Criminal Justice

UNC Criminal Justice Innovation Lab: Improving criminal justice systems through data and research


While Americans rate community safety, law enforcement, and crime as some of the issues that concern them most, it is challenging to get basic information and data regarding how state and local criminal justice systems function.

The University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Criminal Justice Innovation Lab addresses that gap by producing foundational research, executing innovative pilot projects, and developing model tools stakeholders can use to improve the fairness and effectiveness of U.S. justice systems. 

New grant will expand efforts to investigate justice systems

The Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) recently provided a new grant to support the Lab’s operations, which now include the Measuring Justice Dashboard, an interactive platform that allows users to explore a variety of criminal justice system metrics with simple, clear data visualizations. Among other things, users can examine criminal charging rates at the county and state levels, tailor searches by offense category and time period, compare charging across racial groups, and see how charging rates have changed over time. 

The Dashboard helps stakeholders see where state and local systems are doing well and spot areas where improving criminal justice systems is necessary.

“Research, scholarship, and data will help local leaders keep communities safe while honoring the dignity of each person touched by the justice system,” CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers said. “We are excited to continue to support the UNC Criminal Justice Innovation Lab in its mission to help improve public safety and strengthen communities.”

Improving criminal justice systems for all

The UNC Criminal Justice Innovation Lab works with a range of stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, defenders, police chiefs, sheriffs, business leaders, and state and local officials. Charles Blackwood, Orange County sheriff and president of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, said the Lab is critical to “improving the criminal justice system in North Carolina and the way that we manage justice-involved individuals at every level.”

The Lab works in five areas — bail, indigent defense, reentry and second chances, overcriminalization, and policing — and its findings and models can be used across the nation.

Jessica Smith, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government and the Lab’s director, said CKF’s continued support allows the Lab “to help state and local stakeholders improve their communities while developing evidence-based reform models that can be scaled state- and nationwide.”

Read the UNC Criminal Justice Innovation Lab’s full announcement regarding the CKF grant.