Rice students to pitch solutions to improve criminal justice policies

Annual public policy competition will present innovative ideas to local leaders

Criminal justice reform will be the topic of this year’s Houston Policy Challenge (HPC) at Rice University, as 15 teams of students compete to pitch innovative ideas to a panel of prominent guest judges.

Prison cells

Photo credit: 123rf.com

The students in this year’s challenge will present their ideas to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez; Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg; U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison, Southern District of Texas; and Judge Franklin Bynum, Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8. Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams.

The fourth annual HPC will take place Feb. 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Rice Memorial Center Grand Hall. The event, hosted by Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), is free and open to the public. Past challenges have focused on Houston’s affordable housing challenges and flooding issues.

With nearly 50 undergraduates competing, the challenge has doubled its student participation this year. Elizabeth Vann, director of programs and partnerships for the CCL, attributes this to increasing interest in criminal justice reform.

“The U.S. justice system has garnered a lot of national and local attention lately, especially around policing, incarceration and cash bail policies,” Vann said.

This past year, the CCL has offered a wide range of opportunities for students to learn about the justice system on and off campus, including two Houston Action Research Teams, an Alternative Recess program and two Alternative Spring Break trips.

“Additionally, the CCL partnered with the School of Social Sciences and the School of Humanities to host a talk in October by exonerated death row inmate and justice system reform advocate Anthony Graves,” Vann said. “Many of this year’s Houston Policy Challenge students were among the attendees, and this year’s Houston Policy Challenge has offered them an opportunity to take positive action on the issue at the local level.”

Inspired by that talk and other engaged learning activities, the students competing in the HPC will present solutions on a variety of topics, including diversion programs for juveniles and women with children, re-entry programs and services, risk assessment, policing of homeless encampments, sex trafficking, substance abuse and “pay to play” campaign donations to judicial candidates.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.