David Onek, a leading expert in criminal and juvenile justice law and policy, has joined Boalt Hall as the first executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (BCCJ). His appointment comes as the law school expands its distinguished criminal law program to address the evolving challenges of crime, punishment and policing in contemporary society.
Onek, 36, brings considerable experience as a criminal justice policymaker, researcher and advocate to BCCJ. Most recently as deputy director of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Criminal Justice, Onek oversaw policy initiatives aimed at reducing gang violence, prioritizing public safety needs in each of San Francisco’s police districts, developing a city-wide violence prevention plan and advancing regional alternatives to the California Youth Authority (now known as the Department of Juvenile Justice).
“We will sorely miss David’s expertise and commitment in the Mayor’s Office, but we are excited that he will be leading the new Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice,” said Mayor Newsom. “We expect the center’s work to be of great benefit to San Francisco, the rest of the state and the nation.”
The BCCJ has a three-fold mission: to foster scholarly collaboration and interchange on issues of criminal justice; to enhance the training Boalt provides in criminal justice law and policy; and to build strong connections between criminal justice work at Boalt and policymaking at the local, state, national and international levels. Onek will team up with the center’s faculty director David Sklansky in working with practitioners and policymakers in the criminal justice field.
“We are intent on using the intellectual capital at Boalt to tackle the most pressing criminal justice challenges facing communities today” Onek noted.
Onek’s experience will provide solid grounding for the job ahead. Prior to law school, he was a research associate at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), where he authored and co-authored numerous studies on juvenile justice programs and systems nationwide. Following graduation from Stanford Law School in 1999, Onek won a prestigious Skadden Fellowship to work at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco. Prior to joining the Mayor’s Office, he served as a senior program associate at the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness and Equity in San Francisco.
“David brings a deep understanding of the complex nature of racial disparities in the justice system and promising strategies to reduce these disparities,” observed Burns Institute executive director James Bell.
Colleagues observed that Onek’s distinguished scholarship and hands-on experience will serve him well in his new role at BCCJ. Barry Krisberg, president of NCCD, noted that “David contributes a unique mixture of excellence in terms of academic study of the law and practical experience in the criminal justice system.” Similarly, Joan Petersilia, Professor of Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the new UCI Center for Evidence-Based Corrections, remarked that Onek “has exactly the right legal balance; he is sensitive to political issues while maintaining a strong commitment to social justice issues.”
Among the center’s initial projects will be a program to expand the use of Boston’s nationally-recognized Operation Ceasefire model to reduce gang violence in Bay Area cities. Onek states that “for Ceasefire to be truly successful, criminal justice agencies, community members and academics must work collaboratively to address gang violence. The center is uniquely positioned to foster these collaborations.”