When Laura and John Arnold broke into the world of philanthropy, they designated the criminal justice and prison systems as main areas in which they wanted to focus. Since 2009, they have given over $500,000 through the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) to the Innocence Project, a group devoted to exonerating wrongful convictions that can occur due to negligent forensic investigation, false confessions that result from coercive plea bargains, and faulty eyewitness testimony.
$150,000 of that money went into a study, conducted by the American Judicature Society, called "A Test of the Simultaneous vs. Sequential Lineup Methods." It demonstrates how the legal system overestimates the objectivity of eyewitness testimony. Another $150,000 went to DNA testing. The remainder went to the Innocence Project itself. Mrs. Arnold now sits on the Innocence Project Board of Directors.
In addition to their work with the Innocence Project, LJAF also gave $5,000 to Lone Star Legal Aid, a program that gives pro-bono legal aid to recently incarcerated people in the Houston area.
Laura and John have chosen to populate their foundation with at least two people who claim direct experience in criminal justice: Lesley Briones and Anne Milgram.
They elected Briones to act as Vice President for Foundation Management & General Counsel. Briones formerly participated on the Green Haven Prison Project at Yale's law school. The project is a seminar that has convened twice a month for over three decades to bring prisoners and Yale Law students together to discuss legal and political issues.
LJAF Vice President for Criminal Justice Anne Milgram, a former Attorney General in the state of New Jersey, recently published an article in The Atlantic, "Moneyballing and Criminal Justice," that gives some strong suggestions and how and where the LJAF is likely to invest in the near future. The article asks why, despite a history of good results, "data-driven decision-making has not expanded to the whole of the criminal justice system."
Most jurisdictions, she argues, make little or no effort to observe the way in which judicial decisionmaking affects recidivism, public safety, or even overall cost; nor do they have the means mean to do so. Even when the data is available to provide such insight, intra-department bureaucracy makes getting hold of it and making sense of it a nightmare, according to Milgram.
LJAF tasked Milgram with "figuring out which aspects of criminal justice had the most need and presented the greatest opportunity for reform." She is likely to begin allocating money to obtain, consolidate, and make accessible large amounts of data on criminal justice. The wager is that sunlight is the best disinfectant.