College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences
James R. Bell
Class of '75, Political Science
W. Haywood Burns Institute
After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1975, James Raymond Bell applied to, and was accepted by, the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco , from which he received his juris doctorate in 1978. His career goals were quite different from most newly minted attorneys. Bell did not yearn to immediately become an associate at a large firm.
“There's nothing wrong with working for a large firm,” he says, “but it wasn't in my path. Somewhere in my education, I gained a passion for using my legal training in the service of the poor.”
At Cal Poly Pomona, Bell participated in a program supported by the Black Student Union and MEChA ( Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán ), which sent Cal Poly Pomona students to the Chino Institute for Women to assist in its evening education program for its inmates. It was a seminal experience for the future lawyer, one that helped guide him to his career in the juvenile justice field. Bell is the founding director for the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice, Fairness, and Equity in San Francisco , a national organization that aims to reduce the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. For example, in 2002 in Tennessee , studies showed that although the state's black juvenile population equaled 20 percent of the population, 57 percent of the juveniles in secure juvenile correctional facilities were black. The Burns Institute model offers solutions to such problems, and involves all levels of the community, court, police, and social services systems. By mapping the location of crimes, where juveniles congregate and whether mentoring or community based youth programs and services are offered in the area, experts can offer workable solutions.
“The process is complicated,” says Bell . “The first thing we must do is to make sure that the system does what it is supposed to do to protect and serve young poor families, and that it is accountable for the juveniles. If the system is supposed to give kids a better life, then there has to be a way to track its success rate.”
This is only one area of Bell 's work. He also has international experience in his field. In South Africa , he helped the African National Congress administer its juvenile justice system, and in the Middle East , he worked with Palestinians and Israelis to find alternatives to incarcerating juveniles. Bell has trained government officials in Cambodia , Kenya , Brazil and France on the human rights of children. He has received numerous awards, including the Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship, the Livingstone Hall Award for Outstanding Juvenile Advocacy from the American Bar Association and the Moral Leadership Against Injustice Award from the Delancey Street Foundation. At Cal Poly Pomona in 2006, Bell established an endowed scholarship to benefit disadvantaged youth.
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