Dr. Elena Quintana, Executive Director of the IPSSJ

Meeting public safety challenges
with socially just solutions.

Centers and Institutes: Our Commitment to Social Change

Adler University pursues social change through service to communities, especially to disenfranchised and marginalized populations, and through the Centers and Institutes for Social Change.

The University differs from traditional education to prepare practitioners imbued with social responsibility, and we build new models for engaging communities in social change. We do this by addressing the wider systemic and structural issues that underlie poor health and that make traditional service necessary in the first place. We have innovated our education and training to prepare practitioners as highly skilled advocates.

The Centers and Institutes support students, faculty, and community partners to transcend established approaches to wellness. We train socially responsible practitioners for this work in multiple disciplines—in academic programs that go beyond traditional practice.


The purpose of the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice (IPSSJ) is to meet public safety challenges with socially just solutions. We work with community groups, peer institutions, and systems partners to address public safety challenges. By forging creative collaborations, we can devise empirically sound methods beyond mere suppression to create environments where a more lasting and meaningful sense of peace and wellness can prevail. We believe that by working together, bringing all concerned into the mix, we can improve urban safety outcomes by enhancing human potential and community wellness.

Rather than rely completely on safety strategies that isolate and confine, we strive to develop transformative alternatives that restore people, families, and neighborhoods to their optimal functionality. By mobilizing the wisdom and assets of stakeholders at all levels, IPSSJ seeks to shift the tide in public safety thinking and to create momentum for 21st century solutions that strengthen communities, protect families, and bring people closer together. We aim to create communities where all people can reach their full potential.

Every time we remove someone from society there are serious long-term consequences. While this is often a necessary step in protecting family and/or community members, our society has become far too reliant on strategies of confinement. We must rediscover our capacity for lifting up all members of our society, no matter their needs, challenges, or personal traumas. By focusing on peoples’ potential – rather than just their negative behaviors – we can begin to build stronger and safer neighborhoods. We believe that real safety is the result of vibrant communities and systems that promote self-reliance, interdependence, and accountability.

Objectives of the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice

  • To build public safety systems that heal and address trauma rather than recreate it.

Safety is ultimately about relationships. It is about the ways we treat ourselves, each other, and the communities we encounter. Yet this basic truth is often not honored through our public safety laws, policies, or practices. Typically, public safety professionals are trained to isolate and confine, no matter what the scenario is or what a situation may require. Many have little to no preparation in improving the quality of relationships in the neighborhoods, towns, or cities where they work.

While confinement may sometimes be necessary, it is only one of many possible options. At IPSSJ we help train public safety professionals – from police officers, to school security guards, to judges – in a broad array of strategies for handling conflict and preventing harm. These strategies draw from the fields of trauma-informed care, community justice, restorative justice, urban planning and community mental health. 

  • To support a cultural shift away from punishment and towards real accountability.

Prisons are only “correctional” in name. Recidivism in American prisons is generally over 50%. This indicates that strictly punitive approaches have limited power to alter human behavior.  The IPSSJ proposes lasting solutions to incarceration, and to the practice of utilizing taxpayer dollars towards programs that help those who harm, as well as those who are harmed experience real healing without sacrificing a true sense of accountability.

Bringing this objective to life will require expanding the use of alternatives to incarceration and strengthening the capacity of informal social controls. When these goals are pursued in ways that enhance local social networks, then public safety systems can begin to rebuild the ‘collective efficacy’ that recent sociological studies have shown to be foundational to neighborhood safety.

  • To help organizations plan safety strategies that promote functionality and wellness.

Neighborhood organizations play a vital role in supporting, empowering and educating community residents. IPSSJ helps organizations to strengthen their public safety programming, assisting with their strategic planning and evaluation. We focus on partnerships with innovative organizations that have a demonstrated commitment to partnering with the families and leaders in the areas where they work.

Currently, we are partnering with the YMCA Street Intervention Program, the Community Justice for Youth Institute, and St. Leonard’s Adult Ministries. In each of these partnerships we strive to balance rigorous evaluation with a commitment to programmatic development and long-term success. Each of these groups were selected because we believe they have the potential to serve as national models for violence prevention and community empowerment.

Our projects are diverse. Learn more.

Our projects are diverse.