Dr. Tony Gaskew, director of the criminal justice program, has turned the focus of his scholarly work from describing problems with the criminal justice system in the United States to reimagining the justice system of the United States.
A scholar of revolutionary justice, he is spreading solutions through a new book series, “Critical Perspectives on Race, Crime and Justice,” writing four book chapters, editing two journals and serving with some of the best-known names in black intelligentsia as part of a unique project planned at George Mason University.
“Our nation is looking for solutions now - whether its understanding how to end mass incarceration, accepting that we will not be able to arrest our way out of drug addiction, or defining the exact role that policing should serve in our daily lives,” he said. “And some of the best solutions come from communities themselves.”
From his perspective, the best way to prevent the overreach of the criminal justice system in America is to place total control and oversight of policing, courts, and corrections directly in the hands of the communities they serve. According to Gaskew, this concept could be implemented by using a board of directors comprised of 10-15 community members, similar to the organizational model used by thousands of successful corporations across the nation. In his vision, these boards would have decision-making authority.
“Using this type of community-based design, departmental leaders, such as police chiefs, probation directors, district attorneys, and wardens, would report directly to their community board of directors, which would then have oversight and operational control over decisions such as agency-specific policy, hiring and employee discipline, information technology, and finances,” Gaskew said. “This approach will allow a community ownership of its justice system. As we move forward, the criminal justice system must develop a fully transparent and accountable partnership with the community, if public service is to become the ultimate goal."
For academic and educational publisher Rowan and Littlefield, Gaskew is leading an effort to discover and publish other experts who have ideas on transforming the justice system as the editor of his own series of books titled, “Critical Perspectives on Race, Crime, and Justice.”
The series published its first two books in 2017: “Law Enforcement in the Age of Black Lives Matter: Policing Black and Brown Bodies,” edited by Sandra E. Weissinger and Dwayne A. Mack, and “Race, Education, and Reintegrating Formerly Incarcerated Citizens: Counterstories and Counterspaces,” edited by John R. Chaney and Joni Schwartz.
“Every one of these books tries to tackle crime and justice from a solution-based perspective,” Gaskew said. “Being able to collaboratively work with other authors at this point of my career in order to share my unique vision of an ever-changing American justice system is a very special honor.”
One of those who will be offering solutions in a 2018 release for the series will be Pitt-Bradford alumna Dr. Breea Willingham '95, who is an assistant professor in the criminal justice department at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Willingham's book is “What Good Would a College Degree Do for These Women? The Politic and Paradox of Teaching Higher Education in Women's Prisons.”
Beginning next month, Gaskew will take part as a consultant in a series of discussions at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia. The project, funded by the Carnegie Corporation in New York City, is called “The Civil War at 150 Years: Deep Wounds yet to Heal.”
In the initial phase of the project, leading scholars and academic specialists will meet over the course of a year in problem-solving workshops in an attempt to explore community-based solutions that focus on healing the racial, class and moral wounds caused by the American Civil War.
Experts were chosen from a variety of subject-matter areas, including Civil War historians, African-American historians and journalists, Southern Whites, Evangelical Christians, and a political psychologist.
In addition to Gaskew, participants include James H. Cone, author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”; Ta-Nehesi Coates, author of “Between the World and Me”; Eddie S. Glaude Jr., William S. Tod professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University; Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”; and Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post's opinion page.
Gaskew, considered one of the most innovative criminal justice scholars in the country, was selected by the White House and the Obama administration in 2016 to serve on a criminal justice roundtable focusing on post-secondary prison education initiatives. Gaskew serves as the founding director of the Pitt-Bradford Prison Education Program.
“Being selected to work alongside scholars and change-agents such as Ta-Nehesi Coates, Michele Alexander and Eddie Glaude is a great honor and a very humbling experience,” Gaskew said.