Urban Institute Announces New Leadership in Justice Policy

Preeti Chauhan to Lead the Center; New Senior Fellows Will Focus on Racial Equity and Incarceration

Contact: Media@urban.org

April 28, 2021 – Today, the Urban Institute announced the hiring of three exceptional senior leaders for its Justice Policy Center: Preeti Chauhan, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will lead the center as Urban’s newest vice president. David Pitts and John M. Eason will also join as senior fellows.

“At a time when lasting change is urgently needed in our criminal justice system, Preeti, David, and John each bring a sophisticated understanding of how this country could reduce deeply entrenched inequities and address the harms of victimization and justice system involvement,” said Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute.

“Having worked with a broad range of stakeholders, these three leaders bring a long track record of collaboration—an essential skillset for building and applying an evidence base that could help changemakers reimagine policing, punishment, incarceration, and community-led approaches to safety,” Wartell continued.

“I am honored to join this team and continue the impressive work of Urban’s Justice Policy Center, especially given that in this moment, there is a real opportunity to right size the criminal legal system, making it fairer and more equitable while also achieving public safety,” said Preeti Chauhan.

Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center is known for its groundbreaking work on people reentering society after leaving prison. It is a frequent resource for analyses on the effectiveness of justice systems, reducing mass incarceration, addressing the harms of victimization and justice system involvement, and shaping community-led approaches for safety.

Urban’s experts work to center their research in the voices and experiences of people most affected by crime and the justice system, and strive to use language that respects the dignity of people, rather than dehumanizing them or perpetuating negative narratives.

 “I have seen firsthand the irreparable damage caused by incarceration,” said David Pitts, who will lead Urban’s Prison Research and Innovation Initiative. “I joined Urban to push for sustained, meaningful change in how we think about prisons and jails in the United States.”

Added John M. Eason, “I believe Urban is an excellent platform for reimagining policy from a place-based approach to reforming US punishment.”

Drs. Chauhan and Pitts will join Urban in June. Dr. Eason will begin in September. Their bios follow:

Preeti Chauhan is currently an associate professor in psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is also the cofounder and director of the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ). Her work at DCJ has informed criminal justice policies and reform initiatives in New York City, New York State, and in other jurisdictions around the country. Preeti has received numerous awards, including the Feliks Gross Endowment Award and the Donal EJ MacNamara Junior Faculty Award, while also being named a TriBeCa Disruptor Foundation Fellow. She serves on the board of directors for the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, on the Science Advisory Group for ThriveNYC, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Law and Justice. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Virginia and her BA and BS from the University of Florida. Her predoctoral clinical internship was completed at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center.

David Pitts is a senior policy researcher with twenty years of applied research experience in academic and nonprofit organizations. His work focuses on understanding and mitigating the harms of incarceration on those who live and work in America’s prisons. David comes to Urban from the Vera Institute of Justice, where his projects have addressed the experiences of incarcerated transgender people, postsecondary education in prison, family visitation, and solitary confinement. In addition to his criminal legal system research, David has also written extensively on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in public policy. He has consulted for government organizations at all levels, from small cities to federal agencies, and has taught a variety of courses to graduate students in public policy and criminal justice programs.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, David earned a BA from Birmingham-Southern College; master’s degrees from Indiana University and the University of California, Irvine; and a PhD from the University of Georgia.

John Major Eason is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Big House on the Prairie: Rise of the Rural Ghetto and Prison Proliferation. He is founder and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Justice Lab and also a founding member of the UW pancreas cancer data group with oncologist Noelle LoConte. He served as a member of the University at Buffalo’s inaugural Center for Diversity Innovation's Distinguished Visiting Scholar cohort 2020-21. Professor Eason has faculty affiliations across UW-Madison including the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, Robert M. LaFollette School of Public Affairs, Department of Afro-American Studies, Center for Demography and Ecology, Institute for Research on Poverty, the Applied Population Lab, and the Carbone Cancer Center. From 2010-2013, he was an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University before moving to the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M from 2013-2017. Before receiving an MPP and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, he worked as a congregation-based community organizer focusing on housing and criminal justice issues and served as a political organizer, most notably for then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama. He is a mixed-methods researcher specializing in ethnography and rare events and research interests in rural/urban communities, punishment, and race. His work on COVID in confined spaces is funded by the National Science Foundation.