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John Jay College to Launch Arson Screening Project With $250, 000 Grant From JEHT Foundation

New York, NY, July 1, 2008 – John Jay College of Criminal Justice today announced a $250,000 grant from the JEHT Foundation to establish an Arson Screening Project in the College’s Center for Modern Forensic Practice.  This project will utilize the College’s forensic science, law enforcement and legal expertise to develop a process for screening arson cases, apply that process to a growing backlog of “bad science” convictions, and disseminate the assessments for analysis to the media, the public and criminal justice agencies.

“This JEHT funded project will enable the College to utilize its expertise in examining cases where questionable forensic techniques were used to obtain an arson conviction,” said Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  “It is particularly gratifying for John Jay to receive this kind of support since it reaffirms John Jay’s position as a leader in criminal justice research.”

 “This funding will enable the Center for Modern Forensic Practice to collect and evaluate claims of wrongful conviction based on the use of a faulty, folk-science of fire indicators over the past 20 years.  And, for the first time, we will expand beyond the Innocence Project tradition to take a systematic look at old convictions where there is no DNA evidence,” said James M. Doyle, director of the Center for Modern Forensic Practice.

The Arson Screening Project was developed in consultation with the Innocence Project, which already has a backlog of arson cases deserving scrutiny.  The Innocence Project limits its own direct involvement to cases in which biological evidence, which is almost never available in arson cases, can provide a conclusive answer.

According to Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, the John Jay Arson Screening Project is “an important effort to see below the tip of an iceberg, to a generation of cases based on bad science,"

The project will be led by Doyle, along with Dr. Peter D. DeForest, a professor of criminalistics at John Jay and Senior Science Fellow at the Center, and Peter Diaczuk, the Center’s director of forensic science training.  Its stated goals include:

  Advancing the just resolution of many years of pent-up individual claims of wrongful imprisonment

  Preserving the scarce pool of nonpartisan fire experts available to prepare authoritative non-adversarial reviews of cases for legal and law enforcement decision-makers

  Fostering exchanges between criminal justice system actors in all roles with fire scientists

  Providing the integrated mass of knowledge which is a prerequisite for resource, policy and educational reforms

  Disseminating through the media and professional channels the lessons of the “bad science” arson experience

  Developing a pioneering approach to identifying and correcting “bad science” convictions with good science in non-DNA cases

 

The Center for Modern Forensic Practice, founded in 2006, is designed to integrate the best of new scientific developments into both investigative and adjudicative practice.  The Center aims to assist criminal justice professionals in evaluating modern forensic techniques, and incorporating them into their local situations.  It mobilizes the cutting edge expertise of John Jay’s forensic science programs to support criminal justice professionals who are making a concrete difference on the streets and in the courts— using science to provide not only more evidence, but also a higher quality of evidence, and an enhanced ability to evaluate evidence.  During its inaugural  year  the Center convened an international conference on the first century of the Law/Psychology dialogue, trained law enforcement personnel and sexual assault unit nurses in DNA recognition, collection and retention, designed and executed field studies of new eyewitness identification techniques, and “co-produced” training in forensic sciences for judges, prosecutors and defenders.    

About John Jay College of Criminal Justice: An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations.  In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law.  For more information, visit http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/.

The JEHT Foundation was established in April 2000.  Its name stands for the core values that underlie the Foundation's mission: Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance.  The JEHT Foundation's Criminal Justice Program works to bring the latest research and best practices to bear to make the criminal justice system more effective to insure public safety and guarantee fairness to individuals.  Supporting parallel funding tracks for juvenile and adult justice, the Program focuses on three phases in the criminal justice process for which appropriate interventions can make a difference: the period before final adjudication and disposition; the period during which people are incarcerated or under correctional supervision, and the period after people have left incarceration and need assistance to re-enter society and become productive members of their community.