Vera Institute Names New Research Director

NEW YORK, NY – The Vera Institute of Justice has named Jim Parsons as its new Research Director after a three-month search. Parsons, who joined Vera in 2003 and has served as the Director of Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program since 2006, brings 18 years of research experience in the criminal justice field to his new position.

As part of Vera’s five-member executive team, Parsons is responsible for shaping Vera’s research agenda, promoting and sustaining collaboration with Vera’s program staff, strengthening the research funding base, providing leadership and mentorship to a research staff of 26, and working effectively with practitioners, government officials, and partner institutions.

“Jim has been an incredible asset to Vera for the past 11 years, and his leadership and previous work made him the clear choice to lead our Research Department, especially at a time when a bipartisan commitment to criminal justice reform has raised Vera’s core issues in the public consciousness like never before,” said Vera President Nicholas Turner.

Since Vera’s inception in 1961, research has been at the core of Vera’s mission to identify gaps in the criminal justice system that make it unfair or ineffective and develop empirically based solutions. Vera recently completed research into the exercise of prosecutorial discretion on different racial and ethnic groups and the impact of the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk policy on the city’s youth. Ongoing research includes a National Institute of Justice-funded study of the impact of Rockefeller drug law reforms, an evaluation of an initiative to amend policies so that people leaving prison with felony convictions can return to public housing, and the creation and analysis of a screening tool designed to identify victims of human trafficking. Historically, Vera has conducted research into topics as varied as bail policy, community policing, the benefits of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as an alternative to incarceration, and police interactions with different minority and ethnic populations.

“Jim is a talented and skilled researcher with a well-developed ability to be an effective ambassador for Vera with policy makers, government officials and justice advocates locally, nationally, and internationally,” said Vera Trustee Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Director of the American Sociological Association and a former Director of Research at Vera. “He brings the collaborative skills that are key to advancing what has made Vera a unique and highly successful innovator in the pursuit of justice for half a century. Jim has been a tremendous asset to Vera as a researcher and will be an outstanding leader as the institute moves forward into the evermore challenging justice landscape.”

In his time at Vera, Parsons has worked on numerous projects, including a number of large-scale federally funded studies. He is currently leading research on the impact of the Rockefeller drug law reforms in New York State. He also serves as the principal investigator for the nation’s first social-impact bond, a privately-funded program that provides cognitive behavioral therapy to 16 to 18 year olds incarcerated at Rikers Island with the goal of reducing recidivism. In addition to his work on behavioral health, Parsons worked with the United Nations to develop and implement justice indicators in post conflict countries and has represented Vera extensively in China as the research director for Vera’s International Program.

“This is an incredible opportunity to support Vera’s work to reform our criminal justice system so that it is fairer and more effective,” Parsons said. “The momentum for real change may never be greater. Vera has a long history of groundbreaking and high-quality research, and I am honored to have the opportunity to build upon that legacy.”

Prior to his time at Vera, Parsons worked at the London-based Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behavior and Institute for Criminal Policy Research, researching London’s prisoner reentry programs, drug markets, and the public health impact of needle exchanges.

Parsons earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from London Guildhall University and a master’s degree in social research methods from the University of Surrey. A native of the United Kingdom, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and two daughters.