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Mission & History

From criminal justice to Human Justice


To create a new justice and public safety paradigm evolving from the current criminal “justice” model to one of Human Justice, where Human Justice is defined as a merger between Human Rights and Human Development. (click here to learn more about Human Justice theory as developed by the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions).


The mission of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions is to influence socio-economic, criminal and juvenile justice policy by providing research, advocacy and leadership training to formerly and currently incarcerated people, their families, communities, allies and criminal justice professionals for the purpose of:

(1) increasing public health and safety by creating viable alternatives that challenge and change over reliance on incarceration-punishment policies and practices as a solution to socio-economic urban and rural problems;

(2) reshaping the media portrayal and public opinion of people with criminal records by humanizing their popular image and offering language alternatives to counter current negative stereotypes, beliefs, misinformation and myths; and

(3) promoting active participation in criminal and social justice policy decisions, discussions and deliberations by the people whose lives are most directly affected and who have a legitimate stake in the outcomes.


At CNUS, our theory of change entails two critical frameworks.

  1. The first framework is developed to instruct on shifting our current paradigm of justice, safety and health from one of criminal justice to Human Justice, wherein the formula for Human Justice is Human Rights + Human Development = Human Justice, as developed by CNUS in 2012.
  2. The second framework is developed to illustrate a methodology for achieving Human Justice that involves fulfilling transformation on three levels simultaneously: Community, System and Individual (CSI).

Accordingly, our projects develop and evolve according to our three pronged methodology for achieving Human Justice – our CSI strategy which stands for Community Empowerment, System Realignment and Individual Transformation.communityempowerment

Community Empowerment involves directing resources to targeted neighborhoods to achieve sustainable community development, reinvestment and self-determination in the areas of education, economic development, civic engagement and social services. It involves creating a pool of community stakeholders equipped, trained and adequately resourced to interface with system stakeholders and participate meaningfully and equitably in the decision making process.


System Accountability and Realignment is having a principled mechanism of oversight for quality control, data collection, performance evaluation and community partnership. It is holding the system accountable, analyzing system behavior and forging system-community partnerships for arriving at solutions and outcomes that expand and enable Community Development and Empowerment, and Individual Transformation.


Individual Transformation places the person, the human being, at the center of any policy, advocacy, practice or program that results in expanded and sustainable life improving opportunities and affirmative support networks.

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The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions (CNUS) is the first and only independent public policy, research, training and advocacy organization designed and developed by formerly incarcerated professionals and staffed by people directly impacted by the criminal punishment system. CNUS was formerly housed at Medgar Evers College, in the City University of New York, in both the School of Business and the School of Professional and Community Development. Currently it is an autonomous, self-supporting, 501(c)(3) non-profit institution, located in the Bedford Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, New York. CNUS provides an inter-disciplinary forum for policy makers, legal practitioners, law enforcement, civil society leaders, clergy and previously incarcerated academic professionals seeking to influence and impact urban contemporary criminal punishment, economic and social justice issues.

The Center is dedicated to creating new paradigms of justice directed towards reducing mass incarceration, mass unemployment and mass disenfranchisement in communities of color. It produces research, advocacy and activism that challenges and changes the contradictions existing within and among the various disciplines comprising the study of urban affairs, community economic development and criminal punishment. It promotes the development and use of “community specific” and culturally competent models for research inquiry and public policy formulation from the view point of urban communities most affected.


The 1971 rebellion at Attica Prison brought national attention to the unacceptable conditions that existed in America’s prisons. The rebellion sparked a series of innovative reform ideas and efforts led by incarcerated men and women. Those ideas initiated a thirty-five year period of prison activism. It began with the establishment and formation of study and organizing groups emerging in prisons all over the country. In California, for example, an active prison movement developed and a national labor union of incarcerated people was proposed. In New York, the prison movement broadened and incarcerated men developed “The Non-Traditional Approach to Criminal and Social Justice,” a comprehensive analysis and action plan addressing the shortcomings of the “justice/punishment” system from the inner-city historical experience and contemporary perspective.

The historic “Seven Neighborhoods Study,” which evolved from this non-traditional analysis, revealed the fact that over 75% of New York State’s Black and Latino prison population came from seven neighborhoods in New York City. In prisons and urban communities all over America, men and women were devising programs and recommending new approaches to confronting the very problems that landed them in prison. Over the next thirty years, hundreds of prison scholars, teachers and activists were released from prisons around the country. Though unknown to each other, they created a critical national mass and presented an opportunity to build a brain trust that would give intellectual legitimacy to a new voice.

In 2001, while making a compelling presentation to its grant making Board, Eddie Ellis, an Open Society Institute (OSI) consultant, introduced the prospect of creating a national think tank comprised of formerly incarcerated professionals like himself. He called it the NuLeadership Policy Group. He encouraged OSI to provide financial and technical support to identify and convene a series of meetings in cities across the country with formerly incarcerated leaders from among community and faith-based organizations, academicians, researchers, clergy and other local leadership. The idea was to assemble a national group of knowledgeable professionals, with criminal convictions, who could articulate a new vision of criminal justice, a “Nu-Justice Paradigm,” based on their personal and professional experience. Their task would be to provide a critical analysis of existing policy, from a community specific world-view, thus bringing a missing dimension, an alternative narrative, to the discussion of criminal punishment policy and prison reform. Their work would be to challenge traditional habits of thought, dominant myths and political cliches accepted uncritically by many policy makers, media and other system stakeholders.

In February 2003, with financial support from the Open Society Institute, NuLeadership Policy Group convened a national strategic planning meeting in New York City, at the historic Riverside Church. There we developed the infrastructure of our organization and decided its activities for the first two years of operation. The meeting was attended by twenty-two community, non-profit, and academic leaders with criminal convictions from across the country. At this two day retreat we discussed, refined and formalized the values, vision, mission, structure and agenda for a national organization. The retreat established the foundation for the priorities of the organization and elected a thirteen member national board.

In the same year (2003), the NuLeadership Policy Group was recruited by Dr. Edison O. Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York, to make the college its home and begin advocacy, research, and curriculum development, focusing on criminal punishment, resettlement and prison issues. NuLeadership was assigned as a special project within the Center for Law and Social Justice, a community-based education, legal advocacy and litigation organization providing training and legal services to people in central Brooklyn. NuLeadership Policy Group joined the Center’s other projects: the Parent Advocacy Center, the Child Welfare Center and the Police and Racial Violence Project. We were provided with office space, technical assistance and on-going support.

The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions grew out of the NuLeadership Policy Group. By early 2008, Medgar Evers College President Jackson suggested that we were ready to leave the Center for Law and Social Justice and establish our own Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, to consolidate all of our various operations under one academic umbrella within the college. Included in our new Center were: NuLeadership Policy Group, our adult advocacy, community organizing and policy arm; and the NuLeadership Training Institute, our leadership training, technical assistance and organizational capacity building component.

In early 2009, the Center formally acquired the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA) as its youth and juvenile justice arm. IJJRA, previously known as Prison Moratorium Project, is one of the leading youth advocacy, training and activist public policy organizations in the country.

By mid 2009, President Jackson retired and a new administration took power at the college. The new administration, instructed by CUNY Central’s new agenda for Medgar Evers College and the surrounding community, refused to support the previous administration and the local community’s commitment to progressive criminal justice education and the development of a prison reform curriculum of study, research and advocacy. In less than one year, the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions (CNUS) was no longer welcomed on campus and was eventually evicted in December 2010.

By the fall of 2011, the Center relocated and opened an independent office in the heart of central Brooklyn in Bedford Stuyvesant. The Center’s various projects, campaigns and initiatives continued throughout the period of disruption and upheaval. A major lawsuit was initiated by the Center for NuLeadership against CUNY and Medgar Evers College for unlawful eviction, illegal seizure of computers and constitutional violations of privacy. The legal documents of the lawsuit can be accessed by going to The suit was monetarily settled out of court, by mutual agreement, resulting in a tremendous victory and resources for the Center.

The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions is now an automous and self-reliant research, policy, advocacy, service and training institution. It will long be remembered, however, as first and only public policy and academic center, housed in the largest public university system in the United States, whose staff was comprised of formerly incarcerated scholar-activists. It currently set-up as an inter-disciplinary global assembly space for student activists, policy makers, scholars, advocates and previously incarcerated professionals seeking to influence and change urban contemporary criminal punishment, public health, economic and social justice policy. It continues to grow stronger and do this serious work.

For more information, please contact us at 718-484-5879 or via email at