By Nora Delaney

Catarina Correa MC/MPA 2023 is combining her experience as a judge with the skills she learned at Harvard Kennedy School to launch a program for police charged with criminal offenses.

“As a judge, I believe that the mission of the modern criminal system is solving problems rather than delivering punishment,” says Catarina Correa MC/MPA 2023. “I also believe the criminal trial can be an opportunity for learning and growth.”

As a criminal judge in Brazil for almost two decades—and a defense attorney before that—Correa has seen where the system does well and where it fails. “The system’s core idea of punishment is not working,” she says. “Not if you want to fulfill the needs of the people affected and of the community.”

This insight brought Correa to Harvard Kennedy School, where she is both a Cheng Fellow and an Edward S. Mason Fellow. She came to the Kennedy School on sabbatical—after attaining a Master of Laws degree at Berkeley Law last year—to develop a program to shift the conversation about criminal justice in her country. Correa realized that the Kennedy School would enhance her legal background with a policy perspective and additional public leadership skills.

As a Cheng Fellow with the Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative, Correa has spent the past year creating an educational program for police in Brasilia, the capital, who have been charged with criminal offenses. She calls it Resoluto—Portuguese for “resolute.”

Her program, which she has developed in partnership with André Gomma MC/MPA 2019, a Brazilian judge and alumnus and former senior research fellow at the Kennedy School, encourages leadership, peer support, and strategies to reduce police violence. Correa will return to her courtroom this summer to implement Resoluto.

Catarina Correa.

Correa’s courtroom handles cases in which police officers have been charged with crimes. Police violence is a problem in Brazil—one that, Correa notes, Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy Yanilda González examines in her research. Correa is particularly concerned with how the violence targets young Black people and those living in impoverished neighborhoods.

One problem, she says, is that “police officers are not trained in the skills to help them solve rather than increase problems on the streets.” She gives an example of a police officer who was called to break up a fight between two men. The officer fatally shot one of them without realizing the altercation had already been peacefully resolved by the time he had arrived. “He was substantially trained to use force,” Correa explains, “not to understand or mediate the situation.” Police, she says, also tend to be evaluated strictly in numeric terms—the focus is on the number of arrests made, for example. There is no incentive to mediate.

Resoluto intends to change that approach. The program’s goal is to educate authorities to use communication skills and procedural justice principles in policing—and to make this new approach stick.

Her program for police in Brasilia has two phases, emphasizing both training and peer support.

“The system’s core idea of punishment is not working.”

Catarina Correa

The first phase provides police officers with online leadership training to help them understand the effects of their actions, to build communication skills, and to learn “how to be in the streets as a presence of peace instead of a presence of fear.” The leadership training draws on skills taught by Harvard Kennedy School faculty members Ronald Heifetz, the King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership, and Robert Wilkinson, lecturer in public policy and leadership, among others.

Correa sees the second phase of Resoluto as the most important: placing police officers who have gone through the training into peer groups so that they can discuss how they are developing their skills and offer mutual encouragement and support. “These groups allow them to support one another,” Correa says. “They have other people that value their skills.” This model focused on accountability, education, and leadership is new to police training in Brazil, Correa explains, and she believes it will help create a shift to restorative justice, rather than simply a focus on punishment.

From campus, Correa has been preparing her courtroom in Brasilia for Resoluto, working with public defenders, prosecutors, police leaders, and others to implement her program starting in May. She says that these stakeholders are enthusiastic. Correa is excited to bring this new paradigm to work when she resumes her duties as a judge in July.

Correa believes Resoluto will make a difference in how police think about their role in society and give them the leadership skills to succeed, while also reducing police violence, especially in marginalized communities. Correa says, “We have to change minds, souls and hearts.”

Portraits by Natalie Montaner

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