The Levitt Center’s Justice Lab seeks to pair the theoretical and multidisciplinary study of complex societal challenges with the practical application of these concepts in a local context. The Justice Lab is a semester-long program for a cohort of 12-16 students taking 2-4 integrated courses, including an internship, field study, group project, and/or research project. Past programs have focused on criminal justice reform, community health & wellness, immigration and asylum, and human rights and civil rights. 

For Faculty interested in developing courses as part of this program, please email Professor Frank Anechiarico.

Program Topics

Justice Lab: Justice and Safety: Responses to Gun Violence (Fall 2024)

For next semester’s Justice Lab, Profs. Frank Anechiarico, Marianne Janack, Jeff McArn, and Judge Ralph Eannace (ret) will teach four connected courses in which students will study the root causes of youth gun violence in the local area, research best practices for addressing this violence, and investigate alternative forms of justice, while also writing and reflecting on their own experiences of fear and safety. The Justice Lab’s Community Partner, former Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara, will join them.


The Lab will be rooted in multiple experiential learning opportunities, including periodic observations in local area courts and visits to relevant community organizations. Professor Janack’s course will consider the ways that we think about safety, places, and protection, including a visit to a shooting range and a focus on writing for a public audience. Justice Lab students and faculty will also participate in an overnight trip to learn about comparative gun violence prevention, with the location and date to be determined. Application deadline is April 7th. Apply here.

Justice Lab: Inspired Action: Community Building and Social Change (Spring 2024)

For the spring semester 2024 Justice Lab, Profs. Jaime Kucinskas, Jeff McArn, Heather Sullivan, and Joel Winkleman are teaching four connected courses on community building and social change. The Lab is rooted in two experiential learning opportunities. Professor Kucinskas is co-teaching her course with the Rev. Sharon Baugh of Hope Chapel AME Zion Church where students are helping develop poverty alleviation programming in Rev. Baugh’s neighborhood in Utica and across congregations in the city. The Lab also involves a popular education methodology component in Prof. Winkelman's course, with a required spring break retreat (March 11-14) at the legendary Highlander Research and Education Center led by Prof. Margo Okazawa-Rey and with all expenses paid for by the Levitt Center. Prof. Sullivan is teaching a course on the politics of equality in which students will think systematically about the kinds of inequalities that they will be working to address in Utica as well as pathways for change. And in Prof. McArn’s course on social justice at Hamilton College, students have the opportunity to think about the history of social change in their own campus community.


Justice Lab: Human Rights and Civil Rights (Fall 2023)

How have human rights developed? How are they defined, and who enforces them?  These questions are immediately relevant to migrant and refugee populations, the movement for racial justice, the status of indigenous populations, as well as the protection of civilians in times of war. Most basically, the study of human rights asks how we can guarantee personal dignity and the ability of all people to live free from persecution, discrimination, and bias. In Fall ’23, the Justice Lab took up these questions historically and legally at the international, national, and local levels. Courses required for the Justice Lab Fall 2023 semester included: 

  • Justice Lab Experience and Observation (GOV/Public Policy 274W) Prof. Andrea Peña Vasquez (Government)
  • International Law (GOV 254) Prof. Alan Cafruny, Bristol Professor of International Relations: An introduction to international law (Government)
  • Humanitarianism and Human Rights (HIST 255) Prof. Kevin Grant, Graves Professor of History (History) 
  • The American Constitution and Human Rights (GOV 269) Prof. Frank Anechiarico, Maynard-Knox Professor of Government and Law (Government)

Justice Lab: Immigration and Asylum - Local and Global (Spring 2023)

In the past decade, the global refugee population has more than doubled according to the UN with over 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide. The Utica area has played a prominent role in refugee resettlement in the United States since the 1970s. The Spring 2023 Justice Lab was a four-course semester focused on issues of resettlement, religious traditions, and ethical questions related to asylum and immigration policy, both locally and globally.

Courses for the Spring 2023 Justice Lab included: 

  • Politics of Asylum with Professor Andrea Pena-Vasquez (Government)
  • Religion and Immigration in Central New York with Professor Brent Rodriguez-Plate (Religious Studies)
  • Philosophy of Immigration with Professor Alessandro Moscaritolo Palacio (Philosophy)
  • Justice Laboratory: Internship and Observation with Professor Andrea Pena-Vasquez


Justice Lab: Community Health & Wellness (Fall 2022)

Community wellness is a holistic concept that includes public safety, care of vulnerable populations, and access to quality medical services and public health (vaccination, mental well-being, sanitation, etc.). The fall 2022 Justice Lab focused broadly on these issues with particular attention to the homeless population in Utica. Students took four-courses concurrently which included an internship and regular interaction with local leaders in public health, community wellness, and civic institutions.

Courses for the Fall 2022 Justice Lab included:

  • Health Care Systems with Professor Herm Lehman (Biology)
  • Urban Homelessness and Social Policy in the US with Professor Gwen Dordick (Government) 
  • Utica in the Context of US History with Professor Phil Bean (History) 
  • Justice Laboratory: Internship and Observation with Professor Frank Anechiarico

Justice Lab: Criminal Justice Reform (Spring 2020)

New York State passed two major legal system reforms in 2019 that had a substantial effect on the Oneida County Criminal Justice System: the abolition of cash bail for most offenses and an accelerated and expanded evidence discovery process, both of which took effect in January, 2020. These reforms gave students the opportunity to observe and participate in the implementation of significant changes in criminal procedure. The inaugural Justice Lab featured two concurrent courses, a traditional seminar course taught by Professor Frank Anechiarico and an internship and observation course co-taught by Professor Anechiarico and Utica City Court Judge Ralph Eannace.

Affiliated Programs and Projects

Jurisprudence, Law and Justice Studies

Jurisprudence, law and justice studies is a minor with coursework that provides students with a foundation for understanding how the theory, practice and meaning of law stimulates civic engagement.

American Prison Writing Archive

The American Prison Writing Archive (APWA) is a place where imprisoned people and prison staff can write about and document their experience. It is a site where all who live or work inside can bear witness to what is working and what is not inside American prisons, thus grounding public debate about the American prison crisis in lived experience. In 2017, Professor Doran Larson was awarded $262,000 by the National Endowment of the Humanities for APWA. The three-year grant will enable the APWA to double the size of the archive and increase its search capacities.

banner - Crafting Criminal Justice Reform

Webinar Series

The webinar series covers Black Lives Matter, police use of force, the treatment of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, domestic violence, and other issues relevant to effective reform.


Office / Department Name

Levitt Center

Contact Name

Levitt Center

Office Location
Kirner-Johnson 251

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