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Completed Projects

2015 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) Administration

The Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) was designed to measure the need for prevention services among youth in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in the areas of substance abuse, delinquency, antisocial behavior, violence, and mental health issues. The questions on the survey ask youth about the factors that place them at risk for substance use and other problem behaviors along with the factors that offer them protection from problem behaviors. The survey also inquires about the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATODs), participation in various antisocial behaviors, school climate and safety issues, and thoughts regarding suicide and students’ own mental health. The survey is conducted in public, private, parochial, and cyber schools. In 2013, over 350 school districts comprised of more than 800 schools participated in the survey administration. Funding for the survey was provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Rose Baker, Ph.D., College of Education (rmb194@psu.edu)

About the Project

  • 2-year PCCD, PDE, DDAP-funded project.

Research Questions

  • What are the risks and protections available to the youth in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in Pennsylvania?
  • How have reported rates changed as a result of prevention efforts?
  • What antisocial behaviors were identified as needing addressed?

Project Details

  • Redesign of the survey to add/remove questions.
  • Determine structure of innovative 3-form design to ask more questions with planned missing data.
  • Update report design to enhance the usability by policy makers and prevention coalitions.
  • Streamline process for schools to administer the survey.
  • Recruit schools that have not participated in the past or did not participate in 2013.
  • Coordinate with Bach-Harrison, L.L.C. to administer the survey and generate reports.
  • Evaluate question placement and survey design.

Implications

  • Survey results inform and help evaluate prevention strategies.

An Examination of Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Coverage of Municipalities

This study explored issues surrounding the provision of police services by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) to municipalities in Pennsylvania that either have no police department at all, or that have only a part-time police department. Justice Center researchers investigated the level of PSP service provided to municipalities as well as the amount and types of revenue that the Commonwealth received from the municipalities.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
  • Research Associate: Lindsay Kowalski, M.A.

About the Project

  • Funded by Center for Rural Pennsylvania to analyze PSP service provision to municipalities over the period of Jan. 2006 - Dec. 2010.

Research Questions

  • How many municipalities did PSP serve and what level of service was provided?
  • How much and what types of revenue has the Commonwealth received from the municipalities? (fines)

Project Details

  • Collected existing administrative data from PSP Bureau of Research & Development
  • Administrative Office of the PA Courts provided data on fines.

Results

  • PSP provided full- or part-time coverage to 67% of all municipalities in PA (92% of all rural municipalities).
  • 72% of PSP incidents occur in municipalities that rely on PSP for full- or part-time law enforcement services.
  • Half of traffic fine revenue is returned to municipalities; Commonwealth retains revenue from all non-traffic fines with 64% coming from rural areas.

Final Report

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails

Justice Center researchers conducted a survey of county jail wardens to learn more about treatment services and programs. They also analyzed jail population trends, demographics, and capacity. Most notably, very few jails offered programs that address criminal thinking and decision making skills.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
  • Research Associate: Lindsay Kowalski, M.A.

About the Project

  • Funded by Center for Rural Pennsylvania to examine the operation of PA’s 44 rural county jails.
  • Investigated jail population, demographics, capacity, and treatment programs and services over the period 2004-2011.

Research Questions

  • What are the population trends for PA’s rural county jails?
  • What are the key factors involved in the jail infrastructure and specifically, what treatment/rehabilitative services are offered?

Project Details

  • Utilized existing administrative data from PADOC.
  • Conducted survey of county jail wardens/sheriffs.

Results

  • Rural county jail system operated at 84% capacity and jail population grew by 17% from 2004-2010.
  • 27% of jails offered programs that aren’t related to goal of recidivism reduction.
  • Only 16% of jails had programs that target criminal thinking and decision making skills.

Final Report

An Examination of Rural Prisoner Reentry Challenges

For this project, Justice Center researchers analyzed the key needs and challenges facing prisoners returning to rural areas. Very few programs address the skills that are most strongly associated with recidivism reduction.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
  • Research Assistant: Courtney Meyer, M.A.
  • Graduate Assistant: Robert Hutchison, M.A.

About the Project

  • Funded by Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s 2012 Research Grant Projects initiative.
  • One of the first studies to focus on rural reentry (previous research examined reentry to urban areas).

Research Questions

  • What are the key needs and challenges facing prisoners returning to rural PA?
  • How do corrections agencies respond to these challenges and what kinds of services are available to inmates upon their release?

Project Details

  • Surveyed 44 rural county jail wardens.
  • Collected data from PADOC and PA Board of Probation and Parole.

Results

  • Most critical reentry needs for returning rural inmates include assistance with employment, housing, and transportation.
  • Very few programs address ex-offenders’ thinking, decision making skills, and problem solving skills; all of which are strongly associated with recidivism reduction.

Final Report

    Criminal Justice Drug and Alcohol Treatment Study (CJDATS)

    This study is focused on the implementation of evidence-based practices in the area of substance abuse treatment. Researchers are investigating which organizational change strategies are most effective in promoting the implementation of evidence-based practices.

    Project Team

    • Principal Investigator: Steve Belenko, Ph.D., Temple University
    • Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)

    About the Project

    • NIDA-funded, multi-center, multi-site, multi-year study focused upon the implementation of evidence-based practices in corrections, with specific focus on substance abuse treatment.
    • Three primary research protocols – (1) implementation of medically assisted therapies in drug treatment (e.g. methadone); (2) utilization of rigorous assessment practices in the development of treatment plans in the transition from prison to the community; (3) implementation of strategies to manage care of HIV positive inmates.
    • Emphasis with CJDATS is not on evaluating outcomes of specific treatment practices, but studying the implementation of evidence-based practices and testing strategies to enhance such implementation.

    Research Questions

    • How are evidence-based treatment practices disseminated within corrections agencies?
    • What organizational change strategies (e.g. local change teams) are most effective in promoting the implementation of evidence based practices?

    Project Details

    • Nine research centers testing organizational change strategies in the three research protocol areas in dozens of criminal justice agencies across the U.S.

    Implications

    • Results will inform development and dissemination of organizational strategies to promote high fidelity implementation of evidence-based practices in correctional substance abuse treatment and will contribute to the growing body of literature on implementation science.

    Desistance from Crime Over the Life Course

    For this project, researchers are examining the situational factors that impact offenders’ desistance from crime and violence. Offenders released from prison in 2004 will be interviewed and DOC data will be collected to form a complete picture of offenders’ backgrounds.

    Project Team

    • Co-Investigator: Julie Horney, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (jzh11@psu.edu)
    • Co-Investigator: Doris MacKenzie, Ph.D., Adjunct Senior Scientist in Criminology- Retired

    About the Project

    • 3 year NIJ-funded study in collaboration with RTI.
    • Tracking offenders released from prison in 2004 who were studied in a previous RTI project.

    Research Questions

    • What situational factors impact offenders’ desistance from crime and violence? (marriage, divorce, employment, education, etc.)
    • How do rehabilitation programs help offenders? How does cognitive transformation affect desistance?

    Project Details

    • Obtain data from Indiana and South Carolina Departments of Corrections for record of life time incarcerations.
    • In-person interviews to collect information on demographics, attitudes, life events, and criminal activity.

    Implications

    • Results will increase knowledge about factors associated with desistance from crime.
    • Long-term outcomes will help researchers better understand whether cognitive transformation is necessary as a prerequisite to desistance.

    Developing a Sentencing Risk Assessment Tool: Identifying Recidivism Predictors for Level 5 Offenders

    The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing is working with the Justice Center to conduct a recidivism study of the most severe offenders. The goal is to learn more about which offender characteristics best predict future recidivism, especially for violent crimes.

    Project Team

    • Principal Investigator: Matthew DeMichele, Ph.D.
    • Graduate Assistant: Julia Laskorunsky, M.A. (jal549@psu.edu)

      About the Project

      • The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) was mandated by the Pennsylvanian Legislature to develop a risk assessment tool to guide sentencing decisions.
      • In response to this mandate, the PCS is working with the Justice Center for Research to conduct a recidivism study of individuals sentenced as level 5 offenders (most severe; pose greatest threat to public safety).

      Research Questions

      • Which offender characteristics best predict future recidivism?
      • Specifically, which characteristics predict recidivism for a violent crime?

      Project Details

      • The Justice Center is using sentencing data and several offender characteristics from the Department of Corrections’ database to analyze offender characteristics.

      Implications

      • The findings from this project will contribute to criminological theory and methods, and have direct policy-relevance by informing judges of the risks of recidivism.

      Final Report

      Evaluability Assessment of Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA)

      COSA is a community-based reentry program aimed at sex offenders with a high risk of reconviction. Justice Center researchers conducted evaluability assessments of 5 COSA programs across the U.S. to determine which sites are prepared for more extensive evaluations.

      Project Team

      • Principal Investigator: Ian Elliot, Ph.D. (iae1@psu.edu)
      • Co-Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
      • Research Assistant: Courtney Meyer, M.A.

      About the Project

      • NIJ-funded evaluability assessment of COSA prison reentry programs in U.S.
      • COSA is a community-based program aimed predominantly at sex offenders with the highest risk of reconviction.
      • Offenders are provided with 4-5 community volunteers who provide social support while challenging risky behaviors and modeling pro-social behavior, overseen by related professionals.

      Research Questions

      • Do U.S. COSA providers implement comparable programs?
      • Can U.S. COSA programs contribute to a rigorous multi-site outcome, cost, and customer satisfaction evaluation?

      Project Details

      • Assess implementation at 5 COSA providers across the U.S. for intended application of the COSA model, actual program operations, data management, and challenges to evaluation.

      Results

      • Vermont's COSA program demonstrated high program fidelity; Fresno and Lancaster programs showed adequate fidelity.
      • 5 potential obstacles to conduct a successful experimental evaluation of COSA were identified (choice of outcomes; significant differences in program implementation; core member selection issues; sample size, site capacity, and low baselines of recidivism; and ownership of data).
      • 3 recommendations for future evaluative activity include: conduct an experimental evaluation of Vermont's COSA program; conduct an experimental evaluation that combines Vermont and Fresno programs; or allow fledgling sites to develop and conduct a multi-site evaluation of COSA in the future.

      Final Report

      Feasibility Study into Use of Offender Management Software for PA Sex Offenders

      The Justice Center is investigating whether offender management software that monitors and enforces acceptable internet use for sex offenders can be successfully implemented alongside the PA Board of Probation and Parole’s current supervision procedures.

      Project Team

      • Principal Investigator: Ian Elliott, Ph.D. (iae1@psu.edu)
      • Co-Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.

      About the Project

      • Restrictions on release for sex offenders can include limiting or revoking access to communications technologies, such as the internet, which can diminish their ability to develop an offense-free life.
      • There is a need for a system that allows sex offenders full access to communications technologies, but with adequate monitoring in place that eliminates the perception of anonymity and provides guardianship and accountability.
      • Securus offender management software (OMS), when installed on a machine, allows agents to enforce acceptable use policies through real-time monitoring of the user's PC for prohibited words and phrases, both online and offline.

      Research Questions

      • Can OMS be successfully implemented alongside current PA Board of Probation and Parole (PABPP) supervision procedures?
      • Do agents and offenders find OMS a user-friendly method by which to provide internet access?
      • Is there capacity for adequate data organization in support of further implementation and evaluation?

      Project Details

      • 20 - 30 adult sex offenders from the caseloads of 2 or 3 suitable PABBP agents will have OMS installed on a computer for their use. Agents will remotely monitor those machines via OMS for serious and minor violations of acceptable use.

      Implications

      • Results will provide conclusions about whether or not OMS has ongoing benefit for the PABPP, and provide further information for the design of a larger scale evaluation.

      Final Report

      Improving the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS)

      The Justice Center was sought out to make updates and improvements to this survey of school students conducted by the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The survey layout was improved and a three-form survey design was incorporated to boost the response rate.

      Project Team

      • Principal Investigator: Rose Baker, Ph.D., College of Education (rmb194@psu.edu)
      • Doris MacKenzie, Ph.D.

      About the Project

      • Survey of school students in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades conducted every 2 years by PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).
      • Justice Center was sought out to make updates and improvements to survey.

      Research Questions

      • How can response rate be improved for certain questions?
      • What changes can be made to help students complete the survey faster?

      Project Details

      • Changes include using a three-form survey design so that all questions will be answered by a more even number of respondents.
      • Survey layout was changed to improve readability and speed of completion. Also, new questions have been added to help local organizations meet the requirements of funding agencies.

      Implications

      • Rose Baker was asked to oversee the next implementation of the survey.

      Indiana Workload Evaluation: A Multi-Methods Investigation of Probation Supervision

      The Justice Center evaluated two dozen probation departments in Indiana to learn more about officer workload. The results of this study will inform probation departments about how to best distribute their caseload assignments based on the different risk and needs levels of offenders.

      Project Team

      • Principal Investigator: Matthew DeMichele, Ph.D.

      About the Project

      • The Indiana Judicial Conference provided funding for the Justice Center to conduct a workload evaluation of two dozen probation departments.
      • Many probation departments currently use a one-size fits all approach to offender case assignments.
      • Some departments are now moving toward using a workload approach that recognizes differences in criminogenic needs and risk of recidivism.

      Research Question

      • How can probation departments distribute caseload assignments in a way that maximizes officer time availability, skill level, and knowledge?

      Project Details

      • The Justice Center conducted a survey of probation officers, a time study of officer practices over a 5-week period, and conducted interviews with probation chiefs.
      • These data collection methods led to preliminary results that demonstrated the amount of time officers spend each month supervising offenders of different risk and needs levels.

      Final Report

      Marcellus Shale Drilling Activity and Crime Trends in Pennsylvania

      In response to recent concerns about the potential negative impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling in rural PA, the Justice Center analyzed crime reports and state police incidents to address whether a relationship exists between drilling activity and increased crime in Marcellus Shale counties. Results indicated that there was no clear association during recent years.

      Project Team

      • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
      • Research Associate: Lindsay Kowalski, M.A.

      About the Project

      • Investigated crime in rural PA counties in response to concerns regarding negative impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling.

      Research Questions

      • Is there a relationship between drilling activity and increased crime in Marcellus Shale counties?
      • How do Marcellus regions compare to other rural PA counties in terms of crime?

      Project Details

        • Identified 7 counties with most Marcellus drilling activity.
        • Analyzed Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) incidents/calls for service and Uniform Crime Reports.

        Results

        • No clear association between Marcellus Shale drilling and criminal activity.
        • Non-Marcellus areas have seen a decrease in PSP incidents during recent years.

        Final Report

        Mifflin County Adult Treatment Court (MCATC) Evaluation

        This research study is examining current treatment practices being delivered by the MCATC and determining whether these services correspond to best practices in corrections. Researchers are also investigating whether the MCATC is structured to support future outcome evaluation activities.

        Project Team

        • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
        • Research Assistant: Laura Winger, M.S.

        About the Project

        • Funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, this project involves a process evaluation of the drug court operated by Mifflin County, PA, which is immediately south of the University Park campus.
        • Mifflin County received funding to start and operate its drug court, and also to support initial evaluation activity which was conducted by the Justice Center.

        Research Questions

        • Do the treatment services offered by the MCATC correspond to best practices in corrections and the principles of effective offender intervention?
        • Is the MCATC structured in such a way as to support future outcome evaluation activities, for example, are the data systems for MCATC sufficient for information needed by evaluators?

        Project Details

        • Research activities include review of data systems and examination of treatment practices being delivered by the MCATC.

        Results

        • Results from the program evaluation include key recommendations to MCATC that will increase the likelihood of reducing recidivism.
        • The final report can be accessed here. (.pdf file)
        • The final report can be accessed here. (.docx file)

        Preventable Precursors of Adult Crime

        This research project examines the preventable precursors of adult crime such as youth drug use, academic failure, delinquency, and youth mental health problems. The data will be used to help identify the profiles of at-risk youth.

        Project Team

        • Co-Principal Investigator: Brian Bumbarger, M.Ed., EPIS Center (bkb10@psu.edu)
        • Co-Principal Investigator: Jennifer Frank, Ph.D., EPIS Center
        • Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.

        About the Project

        • 2-year grant awarded by PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to Penn State’s Prevention Research Center.
        • Supports PCCD’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative which seeks to identify programs and practices that will result in the reduction of PA’s corrections population.

          Research Questions

          • Identify the prevalence of preventable precursors of adult crime such as: youth drug use, academic failure, delinquency, and youth mental health problems.

            Project Details

            • Assess prior research and current available data on PA inmates.
            • Analyze data from related studies to identify profiles of at-risk youth.

              Implications

                • Results will provide an empirical basis to inform the investment and re-investment in prevention and intervention strategies targeting the most prevalent precursors of adult crime.

                Process Evaluation of PADOC Integrated Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment for Female Offenders in PA

                Justice Center researchers examined a training curriculum for PADOC staff to be used with female offenders with co-occurring disorders. Treatment activities were evaluated to determine the readiness for future program evaluations.

                Project Team

                • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
                • Co-Principal Investigator: Deirdre O'Sullivan, Ph.D., College of Education
                • Research Assistant: Edward Hayes, M.A.

                About the Project

                • Second Chance Grant project through contract with PA Department of Corrections.
                • Process evaluation of co-occurring disorder treatment program for female offenders.

                Research Objectives

                • Examined training curriculum developed and delivered to PADOC staff.
                • Examined integrated treatment activities.

                Project Details

                • Identified intended program activities; document actual program activities.
                • Discovered program strengths and weaknesses related to implementation fidelity.

                Implications

                • Results from this process evaluation will establish the readiness of the treatment program for future evaluation activities, including outcome evaluations.

                Victim-Offender Overlap

                In this study, researchers are examining the relationship between offending and victimization. Situational factors will be assessed through 3 different interview designs with recently admitted male prison inmates.

                Project Team

                • Principal Investigator: Richard Felson, Ph.D. Department of Sociology & Criminology  (rbf7@psu.edu)
                • Co-Investigator: Mark Berg, Ph.D., Indiana University

                About the Project

                • 4 year NIJ-funded study about the relationship between offending and victimization.
                • Comparing recently admitted male prison inmates and a similar non-offender sample. Inmates include violent and non-violent offenders.

                Research Questions

                • Why are offenders more likely to be victimized in disputes?
                • What situational factors are involved in this phenomenon?

                Project Details

                • 3 different interview designs assessing attributes of the antagonist, whether offenders were victims of violence, and mediating variables such as frequency of drinking and involvement in illegal activities.
                • The comparison sample will be drawn from inmates’ contacts who are of similar age and background and have not been in serious trouble with the law.
                • Data analysis is in progress.

                Implications

                • Results will provide valuable information to help explain why offenders are more likely to be victimized in disputes.