Chris W. Surprenant, associate professor of philosophy at the University of New Orleans, has been awarded a Galsworthy Fellowship from the Center for the Study of Human Flourishing at King’s College in New York City. Surprenant, who founded and directs the Alexis de Tocqueville Project on Law, Liberty and Morality, is one of only eight fellows selected for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years.
The fellowship program is named in honor of John Galsworthy (1867-1933), an English lawyer and playwright who was at the forefront of England’s criminal justice reform movement in his time. According to the King’s College website, the Galsworthy Fellowship program seeks to “bolster the number of academics who are researching, writing, teaching and speaking publicly on any aspect of mass incarceration, overcriminalization and criminal justice reform from multiple academic disciplines.”
In addition to participation in seminars at the King's College focusing on the current state of criminal justice in the United States and possible paths for reform, fellows receive funding to develop courses on criminal justice for their home institutions and to produce original scholarly or popular writings on the issue.
The United States leads the world in per capita incarceration, and Louisiana incarcerates more people, on a per capita basis, than any other state.
“These issues directly affect the lives of our students and the community more broadly,” Surprenant said. “Addressing our broken criminal justice system strikes me as the most important practical ethical issue in the country today, and academic philosophers can and should play a central role in this public discussion of this topic.”
Surprenant founded the Alexis de Tocqueville Project in 2011 to create a forum for examining enduring questions in Western moral and political thought and consider how answers to these questions affect social and political life. During the 2017-18 academic year, the Tocqueville Project’s programming focuses on criminal justice reform, including alternatives to incarceration, the nature of just and unjust punishment and the link between policing and freedom. The project’s initiatives have included public lectures, panel discussions, debates, a seminar series in philosophy and political economy, courses for university and high school students, conferences and fellowships for graduate and undergraduate students.
Surprenant’s recent scholarly work includes editing “Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Incarceration,” published by Routledge July 2017. This volume considers the ethics of incarceration and alternative punishments through writings by top scholars in law, philosophy, economics, political science and sociology. His current manuscript project, tentatively titled “Criminal Justice Reform in the United States: Three First Steps,” argues that meaningful criminal justice reform in the U.S. must focus on three areas: reducing overcriminalization, reforming the existing profit incentive connected to many aspects of our current approach to justice and punishment, and reducing the use of incarceration as a punishment for bad behavior, replacing it with punishments that more effectively accomplish the appropriate penal goals while reducing the collateral damage experienced by non-offenders.