The Jerry Lee Foundation is a philanthropy dedicated primarily to reducing crime and enhancing education through research on what works to achieve these goals. The Jerry Lee Foundation is committed to solving social problems associated with poverty, especially in American inner cities which suffer from concentrated poverty. The Foundation's special concerns are elementary education and crime, and its major strategy is to support the cause of research, to find out what works, what doesn't work, and what may be promising. It accomplishes this goal, in part, by supporting the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, which produces major discoveries about the causes and prevention of crime, leading the way towards a safer and more democratic world.
The Foundation was started in 1996 as a joint effort of both Jerry Lee and his long time business partner David L. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz chose to serve the Foundation as a silent partner, in which capacity he was a strong supporter of the Foundation's initiatives until his untimely death in 2005.
Since its inception, the Jerry Lee Foundation has been an active supporter of major crime research initiatives, including the ongoing Jerry Lee Program in Randomized Controlled Trials in Restorative Justice—a program which began in 1994 at the Australian National University in collaboration with the Australian Federal Police, and is now the world's largest program of randomized controlled trials of crime prevention and justice.
In 2000, Jerry Lee founded the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, with Lawrence W. Sherman (Founding Chair, Department of Criminology) as director. The Jerry Lee Center's goal is to bring together outstanding criminologists from around the world to further the discipline as a multi-disciplinary science in research, education and public service. The Jerry Lee Foundation supported this center with an initial gift of $5 million. The Jerry Lee Foundation also funded two assistant professorships in the Criminology Department of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2021, the Jerry Lee Chair in Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania was created.