Previous Gazetteer item | Next Gazetteer item | Jan/Feb Contents | Gazette home


Criminology Center
to Emphasize Research

Illustration by Michael Miller

“I believe in research like almost nobody believes in research,” Jerry Lee was saying this past October, as he stood at the podium of the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theatre. “It’s hard to overestimate the role of research in making a better world.”

That passionately held belief is what prompted Lee, president of WBEB-FM in Philadelphia, to become the founding donor (by virtue of a $5 million gift) of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at Penn. The Lee Center, which was dedicated on October 15, is based at the Fels Center of Government under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Sherman, head of the Fels Center and the Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations [“A Passion for Evidence,” March/April 2000]. Its mission, said Sherman, “is to produce major discoveries about the causes and prevention of crime, showing how to make a safer and more democratic world.”

Penn President Judith Rodin noted that by tapping Penn’s “vast array of interdisciplinary expertise in [the schools of] Arts and Sciences, Law, Engineering, Education, and Social Work, the Lee Center will advance our knowledge of the global and local causes of crime. The center has defined its mission broadly to cover both street crime and terrorism, and that can only help to foster a safer and more democratic world.” (This March, she noted, the Lee Center will sponsor a conference “in which police officials from all over the world will discuss how to use this sophisticated research to prevent terrorist acts.”)

The center’s potential was affirmed by the high-powered speakers in the lineup, which included former Attorney General Janet Reno (who received the center’s first award for research-based crime prevention at the national level) and Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney (same award at the local level).

“Because of people like Jerry Lee and Larry Sherman and many others in this room, we have an opportunity to end the culture of violence which has plagued this nation for so long,” said Reno. “We can make a difference in the lives of the citizens, the strength of this nation, and the future of this world.”

Sherman, who was elected president of the International Society of Criminology in 1999 and president of the American Society of Criminology in 2000, stressed the interdisciplinary strengths of the Lee Center, which is based in the School of Arts and Sciences.

By working with the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Center for Bioethics, “we hope to advance basic knowledge about the complex connections between social structure and biology in shaping criminal or law-abiding behavior,” he noted. And by working with more than 20 state, local, and federal agencies, Sherman hopes to create “an information system that pools data and makes far more efficient predictions about who is at highest risk of committing a crime, and how that risk might be reduced—through social services, family support, or law-enforcement surveillance.

“Working with local police agencies from around the world,” he added, “we hope to learn their best practices for investigating and preventing terrorist violence. Working with victims and offenders and their families, we hope to find ways to bring them together, to start healing and repairing the harm done by crime.” (Sherman recently helped launch a series of “restorative justice” experiments in Great Britain; he also serves as co-director of the Reintegrative Shaming Experiments in Canberra, Australia, where restorative-justice experiments have shown encouraging results in reducing repeat offenses in certain types of crime.)

Dr. Samuel Preston, dean of SAS and the Frederick J. Warren Professor of Demography, noted that the Lee Center, which was established last year, “rededicates the commitment by the University of Pennsylvania to the study of criminology,” just three years after the Sellin Center for Studies in Criminology closed. The Sellin Center was named after the late Dr. Thorsten Sellin G’16 Gr’22 Hon’68, the legendary criminologist and president of the International Society of Criminology; it was later directed by Sellin’s onetime student and collaborator, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang G’50 Gr’55, the pioneering professor of criminology, legal studies, and law.

“Eighty-some years ago, a seed was planted right here in Philadelphia” by Sellin, noted Dr. Freda Adler CW’56 Gr’71, Distinguished Professor in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. “I call it the ‘Penn seed.’ It is virtually impossible to find criminological progress anywhere in the world that does not have the imprimatur of Penn.”

“Jerry, like Ben Franklin, believes that we will ultimately make progress because people crave useful knowledge,” said Sherman. “It is that faith in people, and not just in research, that underlies the mission of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology.”

Previous Gazetteer item | Next Gazetteer item | Jan/Feb Contents | Gazette home

Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 1/2/02