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Active Funded Research Projects

Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE)

In collaboration with RTI, the Justice Center is utilizing a randomized control trial to study a probation program that involves swift, certain, and consistent sanctions. During this 5 year study, researchers will evaluate implementation of the program as well as recidivism outcomes.

Project Team

  • Co-Principal Investigator/Process Evaluation Task Leader: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. ()
  • Project Consultant: Doris MacKenzie, Ph.D., Adjunct Senior Scientist in Criminology- Retired
  • Research Assistant: Elaine Arsenault, M.A.

About the Project

  • 4 year NIJ-funded study in collaboration with RTI.
  • Testing the HOPE probation model in 4 sites across the country.

Research Questions

  • Do certain, swift, and consistent sanctions from the judge reduce drug use and recidivism in high-risk probationers?
  • What factors are involved in successfully implementing HOPE across different jurisdictions?

Project Details

  • Random assignment of 1600 probationers to HOPE or probation as usual.
  • Measuring various outcomes such as appointment compliance, drug test results, rearrest rates, jail dates served, criminal attitudes.
  • Currently in the data analysis phrase.

Implications

  • Results will inform future policies regarding best practices in probation.

Findings Summary

The Administration of the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

Researchers are investigating racial disparity in death penalty sentencing in all death-eligible cases in Pennsylvania during the time period 1998-2010.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Ulmer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology ()
  • Co-Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
  • Project Consultant: John Kramer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology- Emeritus 
  • Research Assistant: Edward Hayes, M.A., Robert Hutchison, M.A.

About the Project

  • Funded by the PA Supreme Court’s Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness and the Falk Foundation.

Research Questions

  • Is there racial disparity in death penalty sentencing in PA?

Project Details

  • Identify all death eligible cases in PA during the time period 1998-2010.
  • Analyze the role that race plays relative to other variables in determining death penalty sentencing.
  • Currently in the data analysis phase.

Implications

  • Results will inform public debate on the controversial topic of the death penalty.

Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 6 – Capital Punishment

The Justice Center was named as the primary collaborator and advisor to this agenda of research into the state of capital punishment within Pennsylvania. Justice Center researchers are involved in several research topics from the resolution including fairness, public opinion, secondary trauma, and role of mental disorder in capital punishment.

Project Team

  • Project Consultant: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
  • Project Consultant: John Kramer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology- Emeritus
  • Project Consultant: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology

About the Project

  • In 2011, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Resolution Number 6 calling for an agenda of research into the state of capital punishment within Pennsylvania.
  • The Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission has primary responsibility for the management of this resolution, but the Justice Center for Research was named in the resolution as the primary collaborator and advisor to this effort.

Research Questions

  • The resolution identifies 17 specific research topics surrounding the death penalty in Pennsylvania, including issues of cost, fairness, public opinion, alternatives, juror selection, penological intent, and related issues.

Project Details

  • The Justice Center is directly participating in several of these topics, including fairness (see summary of death penalty project), public opinion, secondary trauma, and role of mental disorder.

Implications

  • This work will directly inform deliberations in the PA Senate on policy surrounding capital punishment.

Prison Inmate Networks Study (PINS)

This study examines the social networks of prison inmates in a state correctional institution.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu)
  • Co-Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac
  • Co-Investigators: Martin Bouchard (SFU), Dana Haynie (OSU), David Schaefer (ASU), Michaela Soyer (Hunter), Jacob Young (ASU), Sara Wakefield (Rutgers)

About the Project

    • The National Science Foundation made an award of $323,814 to Penn State to support this project, for the period April 15, 2015 - March 31, 2017.
    • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support development of this project, including collection of pilot data.
    • This study is related to the TC-PINS project discussed in the next section and the R-PINS project under development, discussed under the Justice Center Supported Projects section.

    Research Questions

    • What is the structure and implications of inmate network ties for in-prison health and rehabilitation and post-release recidivism?
    • How does an inmate’s position within the unit’s informal network structure relate to his out-of-prison ties and community reentry?

      Project Details

      • Project focuses on inmate social networks in a minimum security general population unit at a medium security Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution.
      • All inmates within a single unit were recruited for participation in computer assisted personal interviews, with a response rate of approximately 70% across two waves of data collection during summer and fall of 2015.
      • Project has full support from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

      Public Data

      • How do I acknowledge the use of the PINS data in an analysis? Please use the following text when acknowledging the use of the data: This research uses data from The Prison Inmate Network Study (PINS), a program project directed and designed Derek Kreager Martin Bouchard, Dana Haynie, David Schaefer, Michaela Soyer, Sara Wakefield, Jacob Young, and Gary Zajac, and is funded by grant LSS-1457193 from the National Science Foundation. Special acknowledgment is due to Corey Whichard, Ed Hayes, Gerardo Cuevas, Wade Jacobsen, and Kim Davidson for interview and coding assistance, and to Bret Bucklen and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for their valuable support of this project. Information on how to obtain the PINS data files is available on the PINS website (http://justicecenter.psu.edu/research/pins). No direct support was received from grant LSS-1457193 for this analysis.
      • How do I cite PINS data in a manuscript? Please use the following text when citing the use of the data: Kreager, Derek, Martin Bouchard, Dana Haynie, David Schaefer, Michaela Soyer, Sara Wakefield, Jacob Young, and Gary Zajac. 2015. The Prison Inmate Network Study (PINS), Wave I, 1995. State College, PA: Justice Center for Research, Penn State University.

        Implications

        • This study will have important implications for understanding how inmate social networks influence inmates’ lives and wellbeing in prison, as well as their reentry prospects.

         

        View the Project Abstract (.docx file)

        Therapeutic Community Prison Inmate Networks Study (TC-PINS)

        This study examines the social networks of prison inmates in a prison drug and alcohol therapeutic community (TC).

        Project Team

        • Principal Investigator: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu)
        • Co-Investigators: Gary Zajac, Martin Bouchard (SFU), George DeLeon, (NYU), Dana Haynie (OSU), David Schaefer (ASU), Michaela Soyer (Hunter), Jacob Young (ASU)

        About the Project

        • The National Institute of Health made an award of $444,084 to Penn State to support this project, for the period August 1, 2015 – July 31, 2017.
        • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support development of this project, including collection of pilot data.
        • This study is related to the PINS project discussed in the previous section and the R-PINS project under development, discussed under the Justice Center Supported Projects section.

          Research Questions

          • How does the informal inmate network structure relate to the diffusion of treatment outcomes in a prison-based therapeutic community?
          • How do inmates’ positions within the TC network structure relate to their treatment engagement and post-TC drug relapse and criminal recidivism?
          • How do informal inmate network structures influence offender reentry?

            Project Details

            • Project will focus on inmate social networks in a drug and alcohol treatment therapeutic community (TC) within a State Correctional Institution within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
            • Selection of a specific institution is still being finalized, with an initial wave of data collection anticipated for summer of 2016.
            • As with the PINS study, all inmates within a selected TC will be recruited for participation in computer assisted personal interviews.
            • Project has full support from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

              Implications

              • This study will have important implications for understanding how inmate social networks influence inmate reentry as well as the dynamics of the prison therapeutic community setting.

              Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute (PACSETI) Evaluation

              The Justice Center is working with Penn State’s Justice and Safety Institute (JASI) on the ongoing evaluation of the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute (PACSETI). PACSETI is a major, long term project of JASI, which is an original partner of the Center. PACSETI provides all of the training for the child support enforcement caseworkers throughout Pennsylvania. The Center is serving as the evaluation partner for PACSETI, and Diana Samardzic’s position is funded through this partnership. Dr. Zajac is part of the PACSETI management team, and is working with Diana on an ongoing program evaluation around PACSETI.

              Project Team

              • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
              • Research Assistant: Diana Samardzic, M.A

              About the Project

              • PACSETI is funded through a multi-year contract from the PA Department of Human Services, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, to JASI.
              • Training targets are caseworkers employed by the Domestic Relations Sections within Pennsylvania's county courts.
              • Diana is based out of the School of Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, pursuant to the nascent linkage between the School, JASI, and the Center.

              Research Questions

              • What are the impacts of PACSETI on caseworker training satisfaction, knowledge gain, job behavior and ultimately more distal performance outcomes of the county Domestic Relations Sections.

              Project Details

              • Evaluation plans are now being developed.

              Implications

              • Strong implications for the operations of the county DRS offices and the success of the child support enforcement mission.

              Understanding Incarceration and Re-Entry Experiences of Female Inmates and their Children: The Women’s Prison Inmate Networks Study (WO-PINS)

              This developmental study investigates the incarceration and re-entry experiences of female inmates and their children.

              Project Team

              • Investigators: Derek Kreager, Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu), Gary Zajac, Sara Wakefield (Rutgers University), Dana Haynie (Ohio State University), and Michaela Soyer (Hunter College)

              About the Project

              • This project will fill three critical knowledge gaps identified by the National Research Council in their report on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States: (1) the absence of even basic information on modern conditions of confinement, (2) the potential heterogeneity in incarceration effects across individual and institutional contexts, and (3) the limited understanding of any association between maternal incarceration and child well-being.
              • The proposed project will leverage strong relationships with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to explore the prison and re-entry experiences of female inmates incarcerated in two Pennsylvania prison units. 

              Project Details

              • In Phase 1, investigators will reveal each units' informal organization and culture using innovative social network data that maps the unit's friendship network, status hierarchy, and romantic ties. Network analyses will test hypotheses for the sources of prison status and the associations between inmate social position and outcomes such as prison victimization, mental health, official misconduct, and family visitation.
              • In Phase 2, parole-eligible inmate respondents in the two Pennsylvania prisons will be administered semi-structured qualitative and network interviews to garner their future expectations, social capital, and preparations for community re-entry. Women's expected social networks provide a unique glimpse into the re-entry process that can later be compared to actual networks upon release. This phase of the project has clear implications for family reintegration, employment, post-release program participation, and relapse/recidivism. Contemporaneously, child and caregiver interviews will be conducted for inmate respondents who are mothers. These interviews will capture the well-being, fears, aspirations, and preparations of inmates' families and surrogate parents prior to prison release.
              • During Phase 3, investigators will conduct two post-release community interviews of Phase 2 respondents to understand how the previously imprisoned women, their children, and caregivers have adjusted to life after prison and if their envisioned plans came to fruition. The goals of this phase will be to identify and drill down on the mechanisms underlying successful prison re-entry and criminal desistance.

              Project Products

              • Aided by an advisory board of social scientists, correctional practitioners, and child advocates, the project's data and products will test theoretically-driven hypotheses while also informing prison-based and community programs aimed at smoothing the inmate re-entry experience and reducing negative child and inmate health and behavioral outcomes. 
              • NIJ award for $685,857 over 3 years.