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Institutes + Centers

Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice



Our Commitment to Social Change

Adler University pursues social change through service to communities, especially to disenfranchised and marginalized populations.

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 the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice 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 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.

Areas of Focus

Areas of Focus

Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice seeks to create momentum for modern, effective solutions that transform and improve current public safety methodology. Our areas of focus are:

  • Addressing Trauma
  • Decriminalization of Communities
  • Building Community Capacity
Addressing Trauma

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.

Current projects:

We are currently involved in local and state-wide trauma-focused collaborative coalitions and efforts relating to education and policy. We also conduct presentations educating the public on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on physical and mental health throughout the lifespan.

On an organizational level, we conduct trainings and workshops to assist them to become trauma-informed. IPSSJ is working on an ambitious project to create a “Trauma Informed City” in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  The city has invested to train their school districts, their hospital system, and the public health system.  Additionally, the YMCA Youth Safety and Violence Prevention office in Chicago, several Chicago Public Schools, and other agencies have sought this training locally.

Decriminalization of Communities

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. Instead, the IPSSJ proposes transformative solutions to public safety challenges, where taxpayer dollars are used to create true accountability and healing, actively supporting human potential, rather than just multiplying the harm in any situation.

Bringing this objective to life requires expanding the use of alternatives to incarceration and strengthening the human development capacities of communities. 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.

Current projects:

Throughout the year, we organize and participate in events which illustrate alternatives to incarceration and detention. Recently, Dr. Quintana provided her expertise to the Illinois governor’s commission on inmate reform. For more information on upcoming events, join our mailing list.

Building Community Capacity

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.

Current projects:

Community Restorative Justice Hubs

We collaborate with six neighborhood organizations, and a number of other thought partners, to offer trauma-informed alternatives to detention for youth and emerging adults in some of the most criminalized communities in Chicago. These organizations are:

IPSSJ serves as the evaluator and data coordinator for the Community Restorative Justice Hubs and provides training and technical assistance to the collective. Additionally, IPSSJ coordinates a “Learning Academy” where hub members educate other hubs on their areas of expertise. Click here to learn more about the Community Restorative Justice Hub network, and find out about upcoming information sessions for those organizations interested in becoming a hub.

Community Anti-Violence Education Project (CAVE)

This initiative was spawned through work with the Education Justice Project of the University of Illinois. Through this effort, Dr. Quintana works in collaboration with inmates as co-faciliators inside Danville Correctional Center.  IPSSJ was instrumental in creating a program in Chicago, held weekly in two Adult Transition Centers. CAVE allows participants to address trauma as a main trigger before engaging in violence.  Inmates and former inmates teach current inmates about brain science & emotional management in order to recognize and redirect trauma triggers.

Social Justice Simulations

Two experiences have been developed to help people understand the experiences of marginalization: one emphasizes the barriers and challenges faced by people reentering society after incarceration and the other is an exploration of income inequality. Both allow groups of up to 25 individuals take part in a 3-hour experience that promotes discussion and a need for solutions to two major crises of our time. These simulations can be provided to interested organizations for a fee. Please contact us for more information and pricing.



We work with community groups, peer institutions, and systems partners to address public safety challenges.

Community Restorative Justice Hubs

Community Restorative Justice Hubs: A collaboration between IPSSJ, thought leaders and community-based organizations which offers trauma-informed alternatives to detention for youth in communities with public safety challenges across Chicagoland. View a map of IPSSJ’s Community Restorative Justice Hubs or learn how to become a hub.

Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP)

The Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) is a coalition of educators, students, activists, universities, and others committed to bringing quality higher education to Illinois prisons and jails and working toward a safer, more just society. IL-CHEP operates with the knowledge that higher education programs are among the best ways to offer opportunities and hope to individuals who are incarcerated.

Quintana Last Mile Scholarship

Quintana Last Mile Scholarship

The Quintana Last Mile Scholarship is designed to support students who are currently or formerly incarcerated, and lack funds (up to $10,000) to complete a course of study. Preference will be given to those who are within 2 semesters, or in their last year of coursework. This scholarship could also be used to clear past school/loan debt that is keeping someone from completing a degree or certificate program.

Please click here to complete the application online or download the questions here. Applications must be submitted online or postmarked no later than end of day on July 23rd, 2021.

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IPSSJ has created a variety of publications and reports on topics in community mental health, restorative justice, trauma-informed care, and urban planning. Contact IPSSJ to learn how to partner with us to develop a publication or report.

(Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment) "What Can the Cook County Juvenile Court Do to Improve Its Ability to Help Our Youth?"

Commissioned by Cook County Justice for Children’s (CCJC) Juvenile Justice Strategy Team, this study was conducted in collaboration with IPSSJ to increase understanding of perceived strengths and weaknesses in the juvenile justice system. Conducting research and tapping into juvenile justice data allows IPSSJ and juvenile justice advocates to identify transformative opportunities for youth, families and communities.

Read “What Can the Cook County Juvenile Court Do to Improve Its Ability to Help Our Youth? A Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment.”

(Restorative Justice Primer) "A Primer and Exploration of Practice:" Across Two North American Cities"

In collaboration with Adler University’s Vancouver Campus and the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Project (IBARJ), IPSSJ published this white paper to be used as a primer for practitioners in research, law and public administration. The paper provides an overview of restorative justice philosophy; a comparative review of restorative practices in metropolitan Chicago, Illinois and Vancouver, British Columbia; and a case study of formal systems and policies that either promote or suppress restorative justice practices.

Read “Restorative Justice: A Primer and Exploration of Practice Across Two North American Cities.”

(Community Justice Concept Paper) "A Project of the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force"

The Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force was formed by IPSSJ and community partners to develop a report on trauma-informed restorative justice solutions to public safety challenges involving crime and youth detention. The concept paper addresses how the juvenile justice system can better support young people and make communities safer with alternatives to traditional approaches.

Read “A Project of the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force.”

(White Paper Series) "IPSSJ and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights"

As part of an ongoing collaboration addressing mass incarceration and immigration policy that is increasingly punitive in nature, IPSSJ has developed a series of white papers in partnership with Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to explore ideas for reform.

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Support the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice and its stakeholders with approaches to reduce violence in neighborhoods and address trauma through restorative justice best practices.


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Adler University Receives Grants to Promote Community Health and Social Justice

Adler University was recently awarded several grants from foundations and corporations to support our work to engage communities and advance social justice.

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Advocating for COVID-19 Prevention and Protection in Prisons

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Larry Barrett, Program Assistant for the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University, has been at the forefront of daily activism to help protect Illinois prisoners.

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Dr. Quintana Advocates for Racial Equity

Elena Quintana, Ph.D., Executive Director for the Adler University Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, penned a letter to the editor in The Chicago Sun-Times

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