Coding homicide case data during an undergraduate internship with Penn State’s Criminal Justice Research Center helped Syndey Harris understand policy’s role in criminal justice reform. The experience also inspired a career goal to change the system for the better.
“I have an immense passion for criminal justice reform. I believe the best way to enact change is through policy and compromise. The MPP degree allows me to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to promote change through policy initiatives,” she said.
Her MPP internship with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s special initiatives team led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Rob Reed focuses on criminal justice reform through trauma-informed practices. The team’s work is a part of Governor Wolf’s HEAL PA Trauma-Informed PA Plan, a comprehensive strategy to include counties, communities, neighborhoods, businesses, and homes to heal trauma.
As part of the Criminal Justice Reform Action Team, Harris works with a mix of state agency representatives and community stakeholders to set goals and make recommendations to help implement a trauma-informed plan. The group focuses on prevention, extremism, corrections, probation and parole, reentry, policing, and sentencing. She participates in discussions with judges, attorneys, heads of Pennsylvania prisons, researchers, and individuals with firsthand experience in the criminal justice system to work toward a state that values trauma-informed practices over retributive practices. This work generates recommendations for policy that benefit those involved in the criminal justice system and society.
Harris is applying skills from the classroom in her work in the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. She says that she has a better understanding of the policy process, which helps create recommendations for policy based on discussions and research with the Criminal Justice Reform Action Teams.
She also continues her work with Penn State’s Criminal Justice Research Center under Jeffrey Ulmer, professor of sociology and criminology, and Gary Zajac, the Criminal Justice Research Center director. Funded by the National Science Foundation, they use quantitative methodologies to subject prosecutorial decision-making for homicide cases in Pennsylvania.
Harris plans to continue her internships, earn her MPP, and continuously work toward reform backed by science and trauma-informed practices.