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Penn Law launches new center to improve U.S. justice system

With a $15 million alumni gift, Penn Law launches new center to study and improve on the nation's justice system.

The University of Pennsylvania's law school will launch a new center focused on improving the country's criminal justice system with a $15 million gift from a  banker and alumnus who spent several years fighting charges in the criminal justice system, the university announced this week.
Former Credit Suisse Group banker Frank Quattrone was convicted of obstructing a federal probe into Credit Suisse First Boston, but the verdict was overturned on appeal in 2006. The government agreed to drop its case if Quattrone did not break the law for a year. Charges were dismissed in 2007.
"For more than four years, I fought to clear my name and prove that the accusations against me were without merit," Quattrone said in a statement at the time the dismissal of charges was announced. "The legal system has rendered its final verdict: I am innocent."
The initial funding for the Penn center comes from the foundation started by Quattrone and his wife, Denise Foderaro, in 2002; both are Penn graduates and Philadelphia natives. Frank Quattrone is co-founder and CEO of Qatalyst Group, a global independent investment firm based in San Francisco.
"Our system of justice may very well be the best in the world, but with each passing day the frequency and sometimes tragic consequences of its mistakes, as well as the risk of random unfair outcomes for all Americans, are becoming better understood," he said in a prepared statement. "It is our profound wish that this new Center will serve as a world class policy hub for researching and debating the system's most crucial problems, as well as in developing concrete, credible, evidence-based solutions to catalyze long-term structural improvements."
The new national research and policy hub, to be called the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, will aim to drive long-term instructional improvements to the nation's justice system, the law school said. It will use an "interdisciplinary, data-driven, scientific approach to identifying and analyzing the most crucial problems in the justice system, and proposing solutions that improve its fairness for the long-term benefit of society," the university said in a press release.
The center, which will offer its first programming in 2013-14, will involve academics, judicial officials, law enforcement, defense attorneys, prosecutors, legislators, forensic and social scientists, media and other participants in its research and programs, officials said.
While historically the justice system generally was considered to be fair, developments in DNA testing have shown errors in convictions and raised questions about how well the system actually works. The new center will delve into this issue and others to look for ways to insure fairness, officials said.
"The Quattrone Center is being established with one fundamental purpose: to advance the fairness of our justice system by deepening our understanding of the most crucial issues affecting its performance and proposing improvements that will ensure a just process for all," Law School Dean Michael A. Fitts said in a prepared statement. "It will extend to justice the same revolution in evidence-based approaches and outcomes that are already taking place in medicine and education, by evaluating the justice system broadly to determine why systemic problems occur and how best to address them for the long term."
While housed at the law school, the center will draw in Penn professionals from other schools across the campus, including Wharton, communications, criminology, engineering, medicine and public health and social sciences.
The center will offer conferences, workshops and other activities to spur public debate and involve students in the quest for solutions, officials said. Areas to be investigated include: "the frequency and causes of, as well as policy proposals to reduce or eliminate wrongful convictions; redress for victims of institutional misconduct; critically evaluating the science underlying current forensic practices and developing new breakthroughs; incentives and accountability for prosecutors (for example, absolute versus qualified immunity); and the roles of politics, economics, and the media on justice system fairness."
The university will conduct a nationwide search for a director for the center and create a national advisory board.
The Frank and Denise Quattrone Foundation was started to improve the "human condition through technological, social and artistic innovation," the university said. Foderaro is a research assistant for the National Registry of Exonerations.