On March 14, Lehigh Valley Justice Institute (LVJI) came to Northampton Community College (NCC) Bethlehem campus for the Peace and Justice Conference: “Justice in the Lehigh Valley” to share their work within the community and educate attendees. LVJI began their visit with a series of lectures that focused on their history and importance in the criminal justice system of the Lehigh Valley. The lectures provided an overview of the organization’s mission, goals, and the various projects they have undertaken over the years. 

The LVJI is an independent nonpartisan research, policy, and advocacy organization which aims to promote fairness and equity for all communities by addressing crucial issues related to social justice issues. By focusing on research and data analysis, LVJI seeks to create evidence-based solutions that can inform policy decisions and ultimately lead to a more just and fair-minded criminal justice system. 

During the lecture, Richard Master, founder and board member emeritus, mentioned that there were a few challenges that LVJI faced early on when they began their path to re-vamp the criminal justice system. The biggest one was the reality of LVJI being a brand-new organization that focused on such a problematic and complex area of study. Officially founded in 2020 and became functional in 2021, Richard shared how this challenge at LVJI was resolved by gathering some of the most resourceful and committed people to join his team, such as Executive Director Joe Welsh and Researcher Nicole Levy. Levy, a speaker during the lecture, said, “I’m honored to be doing work that has a positive real-world impact on fellow members of my community.”  

Levy shared research on how criminal justice outcomes often have multiple negative long-lasting impacts on individuals. Some of these outcomes include homelessness, self-condemnation, and serious mental health issues that end up destroying friendships, families, and often lead the individual back to incarceration.  

Following the lecture series, LVJI organized a re-entry simulation that gave the students and staff a chance to experience how challenging it can be to re-enter the world after incarceration. Participants were divided into groups or “families” and were given a script that they had to follow. The script involved hard decision-making skills and other hardships that one might encounter while trying to reintegrate into society after being in prison such as, finding employment, housing, probation laws, and everyday challenges. The experience was intended to be realistic and challenging, showing participants how difficult life is with limited resources and support.  

The lecture and simulation provided an opportunity for people to reflect on the biases and unjust regulations the criminal justice system has in place.