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Justice Center Supported Projects

The following projects are those which been supported through the Justice Center Faculty Resource Program, or which Center staff are otherwise involved in. Some are currently being supported through external funding, others are currently seeking external funding.

Building a Strong Identity and Coping Skills (BaSICS) Program

This is a randomized control trial to study BaSICS, a program designed to teach low-income and racial/ethnic minority youth healthy ways of coping with stress, develop positive personal and cultural identities and engage in efforts to strengthen their communities.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Martha Wadsworth, Ph.D., Department of Psychology (mew27@psu.edu)
  • Co-Investigators: Mark Feinberg, Ph.D. (PSU), Jarl Ahlkvist, Ph.D. (PSU), Gina Brelsford, Ph.D. (Penn State Harrisburg), and Damon Jones, Ph.D. (PSU)

About the Project

    • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awarded Penn State $2,800,000 to support this project for the period May 2016 – April 2018 and May 2018-April 2021 pending successful completion of the first two years’ goals.
    • Testing the efficacy of BaSICS for promoting adaptation among at-risk preadolescents.
    • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support the development of the funding application.

    Research Questions

    • Does BaSICS lead to acquisition and use of adaptive individual and collective coping strategies?
    • Do children who complete BaSICS show improved physiologic stress regulation in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) in comparison to children who do not receive the intervention (control)?
    • Do children who complete BaSICS show lower levels of anxiety, PTSD, and depression than control children at post-test and follow-up?  Are improved coping skills and HPA regulation mechanisms of these differences?

    Project Details

    • Conduct pre- and post-intervention and follow-up assessments measuring proposed mechanisms that contribute to maladaptation in youth facing adversity, including regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and acquisition of adaptive ways to cope with chronic, uncontrollable stress (SAM).
    • Implement and evaluate BaSICS using a randomized control trial.

    Implications

    • Findings will elucidate how psychosocial interventions can improve preadolescents’ physiologic regulation, how long-lasting such changes are, and the extent to which physiologic change is necessary and/or sufficient to prevent anxiety and depression in at-risk youths.
    • There are important implications of this work for eradication of income- and race-based health disparities.

    Identifying and Informing Strategies for Disrupting Drug Distribution Networks: An Application to Opiate Flows in Pennsylvania

    This study focuses on six counties in PA identified by the Pennsylvania State Police as areas where large amounts of drug trafficking occurs along the interstate system, which passes through the counties. We analyze the distribution networks of heroin and illegal prescription opioids separately, based on data from Pennsylvania State Police arrest and seizure data to explore differences and similarities between the sources of these substances. Additionally, we explore the local distribution centers of heroin and illegal prescription opioids through focus groups in the highest overdose areas of the counties (which indicates a ready supply of the substances), compare these data to Pennsylvania State Police arrest and seizure locations to explore areas for increased law enforcement attention, and identify additional indicators associated with high and low opiate distribution neighborhoods. We also be provide information from the Pennsylvania State Police and local treatment organizations to focus group participants to report illegal activity and how to seek treatment for users. Through the innovative approach of combining both the extra-local and local supply analysis results, we will provide recommendations to law enforcement agencies on how to maximize the efficiency for disruption of the supply of opiates into our communities. Our results will be provided to the Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania state governmental agencies, US governmental agencies, law enforcement agencies across the US, the academic community, and local community organizations.

    Project Team

    • Principal Investigators: Glenn Sterner, Post-Doctoral Scholar, Justice Center for Research, Department of Sociology and Criminology, ges5098@psu.edu; Ashton Verdery, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Demography, Department of Sociology and Criminology, amv5430@psu.edu
    • Co-Investigators: Shannon Monnat; Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology, Demography, and Sociology; Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education and The Population Research Institute; smm67@psu.edu;  Pete Forster, Associate Dean for Online and Professional Education in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, pkf1@psu.edu;Gary Zajac, faculty member in Criminology and Managing Director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State, gxz3@psu.edu

        Research Questions

        1. What are the characteristics (e.g. hierarchical structure, number and strength of connections, clusters of distribution possibly associated with different organizations, susceptibility of distribution networks to disruption) of heroin and fentanyl distribution networks in PA?
        2. What are the characteristics (same as #1) of prescription opioid distribution networks in PA?
        3. How do the distribution networks of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opiates compare?
        4. Do residents’ perceptions of the geographic locations of opiate distribution match arrest and intelligence gathering data?
        5. What are the differences in demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and major highway access between neighborhoods with high versus low opiate distribution?

          Project Details

          The purpose of this project is to partner with the PA State Police to identify and describe opiate distribution networks and discern ways to disrupt them in PA and eventually across the United States. Specifically, the goal of this research is to work within the topic area of Drug Intelligence and Community Surveillance, addressing the second drug priority: heroin and other opioids (including diverted prescription drugs).

          The research in this project emphasizes multiple crime reduction approaches. First, we will explore the epidemiology of opiates by examining differences in the structure of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opiate distribution networks. We will also use community-based mapping and law enforcement arrest and seizure data to identify geographic hotspots of drug sales among 264 neighborhoods (census tracts) within six selected PA counties. This information will inform the development of policies and programs related to prevention and intervention of drug-related crime and the disruption of heroin, fentanyl, and diverted prescription opioid drug networks for law enforcement agencies. Such strategies will help to inform both PA and U.S. law enforcement agencies on how to disrupt the flow of opiates.

          We specifically emphasize small, rural communities, as well as urban communities, and we will examine whether and how opiates flow from urban to rural areas.

          Project Objectives

          1. Identify and document the structure of heroin and fentanyl distribution networks in PA.
          2. Identify and document the structure of diverted prescription opioid networks in PA.
          3. Analyze the structural similarities, differences, and connections between heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid distribution networks in PA.
          4. Develop and apply tools to record resident identified locations of local opiate distribution.
          5. Compare resident identified locations of local opiate distribution to arrest locations of opiate distribution.
          6. Describe the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods with high vs. low distribution (as measured by arrest records and respondent reporting).
          7. Provide recommendations for policing and arrest strategies for law enforcement for targeting heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid distribution networks to increase network disruption.
          8. Provide recommendations for improving intelligence gathering activities related to documenting opiate distribution networks.
          9. Create stronger community and law enforcement connections.

          10.  Disseminate information for opiate treatment and reporting of illicit activity at study sites.

            Implications

            Although this study is limited to six counties in PA, the analyses and results from this study will have the ability to inform policy and practice across the Commonwealth and the United States. First, our innovative approach to data fusion will be of interest to law enforcement agencies to use as a model for addressing complex criminal justice issues. We are utilizing datasets from multiple units within the PA State Police to develop extra-local understandings of drug distributions. Similarly, we are utilizing community-based data gathering and existing data to gain clearer understandings of drug sales in neighborhoods. By tackling this issue from local and extra-local perspectives, we are able to provide recommendations for police enforcement policy and practice to ensure efforts are maximized to disrupt the distribution networks of opiates. Integration across inter-departmental agencies and across jurisdictions is a model that could be applied to the opiate epidemic and other criminal justice concerns. Second, by identifying the common characteristics of communities where significant distribution occurs, we can inform criminal justice agencies on potential areas for concentrating officer targeting. Third, the analyses of the structure of the supply chain of heroin and fentanyl networks and prescription opioid networks will provide key insight for targeting the flow of these substances. Law enforcement agencies will be able to better understand how to target these networks in a more effective and efficient manner.

            Incentives and Money Generating Activities

            This is a pilot project that seeks to understand the relationship between legal employment, informal employment and money generating criminal activities. Specifically, we are interested in how various sources of income overlap and the incentive structures associated with these sources.

            Project Team

            • Principal Investigator: Holly Nguyen, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (hollynguyen@psu.edu)
            • Co-Investigators: Jeremy Staff, Ph.D., Gary Zajac, Ph.D. Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Thomas Loughran, Ph.D. (University of Maryland)

            About the Project

            • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support the collection of pilot data.
            • External funding will be sought to expand the scope of this work.

              Research Questions

              The project is driven by three main research questions:

              1. What are the patterns associated with participation in legal employment, informal employment and money generating crimes?
              2. How are earnings from legal, informal and crime related to participation in each?
              3. How are perceptions of rewards (monetary, intrinsic and social) associated with participation in legal, informal, and money generating criminal activities?

                Project Details

                • This project will focus on interviewing selected inmates within a State Correctional Institution in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
                • Inmates within the selected institution will be recruited for participation in the summer of 2016.
                • This project has the support of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

                  Implications

                  • Results from this project have the potential to inform 1) theories on decision making and desistance from crime 2) the design of policies that increases the efficacy of custodial and noncustodial employment programs, and 3) improve the general understanding of offenders’ conceptualizations of “work".

                  Pennsylvania State Police TRIAD Program

                  Prescription pain relievers and heroin (opiates) abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States. Of all drug-related overdose deaths in 2013, 43% were due to prescription opioids and 22% were due to heroin, representing an increase of over 300% since 1999 (NIDA, 2015). In Pennsylvania, opiate overdose rates have increased over 470% over the past two decades, and the state now ranks 7th in the US for drug-related overdoses (Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 2014). Additionally, over half of all arrests in Pennsylvania in 2014 involved heroin (Center for Rural PA, 2014). The cities of Harrisburg and York were recently ranked 25th and 33rd, respectively, amongst the most dangerous cities to live in the US (NeighborhoodScout.com, n.d.). During the last three years, drug-related deaths increased 69.05% in Dauphin County (which houses Harrisburg) and 69.64% in York County (which houses York). Due to the critical and prevalent nature of this issue, we are proposing an innovative project – the TRIAD program – that will disrupt the flow of these illegal substances into our communities through three components: increased patrols, technological advancement, and community partnerships.

                  Project Team

                  • Principal Investigators: Pennsylvania State Police
                  • Co-Investigators: Jennifer Gibbs, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice Program, Penn State Harrisburg; Jonathan Lee, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice Program, Penn State Harrisburg; Glenn Sterner, Post-Doctoral Scholar, Justice Center for Research, Department of Sociology and Criminology, ges5098@psu.edu

                  About the Project

                  • Proposal to the Bureau of Justice Assistance

                  Project Details

                  To combat the rise in drug-related crime and deaths, PSP will utilize Smart Policing Initiative FY2016 Competitive Grant (SPI) funds, under Purpose Area 1: Smart Policing Innovation, to develop “The Triad Program.”  The Triad Program (TRIAD) is a mitigation strategy driven by arrest and overdose data, to be evaluated for effectiveness by the research partners at Penn State University, utilizing measurable performance metrics.

                  TRIAD will synchronize innovative enforcement strategies, driven by cutting-edge technology, while leveraging information received by community input and outreach, along with police-gathered intelligence.  TRIAD is named for the three main component parts that will be brought to bear on the problem of drug-related crime and deaths: Incident Response Team, Technological Dashboard, and Community Partnership.

                  The TRIAD program will be assessed through a quasi-experimental design using Harrisburg City and York City as target areas, and two respective comparison areas which will be determined based on demographic characteristics.  Pre-intervention and post-intervention data collection will be implemented through PSP database sharing and resident surveys at both the target and comparison areas.  Crime analysis will deliver hot-spot identification and examine situational factors associated with high odds of criminal incidents.  Surveys will shed light on individual perceptions of drug activities and police enforcement, among others.

                  Project Objectives

                  1. Mitigate overdose rates in York and Harrisburg and their surrounding counties.
                  2. Increase disruption of opiate distribution networks through increased surveillance and arrests.

                  Implications

                  This project has great potential for sustainability after the SPI funding period.  Once the Technical Dashboard is purchased, PSP will have the resources to continue the TRIAD program.  Additionally, the PSP Commissioner has encouraged police-researcher partnerships to ensure evidence-based practices, and Penn State Harrisburg has a commitment to promoting evidence-based practices in policing.  Further, PSP has networks and influence with other jurisdictions across the Commonwealth, and PSP fully intends to introduce the TRIAD program to other areas if it is effective.  This includes presenting the project at various regional and national conferences (e.g., IACP, Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association).  Finally, the research partners will attend academic conferences and produce academic publications to disseminate results to the academic community, who can promote the TRIAD program to other jurisdictions.

                  Project Products

                  • BJA Grant Proposal submitted April 12, 2016 for $697,473

                  Reentry Prison Inmate Networks Study (R-PINS)

                  This study in development examines how the in-prison social networks of prison inmates examined in the PINS study (see summary of this under Active Funded Research Projects) impacts post release experiences of selected inmates from the PINS study who have since been released.

                  Project Team

                  • Investigators: Derek Kreager, Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu), Corey Whichard (PSU Criminology doctoral student), Sara Wakefield (Rutgers), Michaela Soyer (Hunter)

                  About the Project

                  • This project in development extends the current PINS study (see summary of this under Active Funded Research Projects) with intensive interviews of parole-eligible inmates prior to and after prison release.
                  • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support development of this project and interview costs.
                  • External funding is currently being sought to further the development of this work.

                  Research Questions and Project Details

                  • This project will explore post-release experiences of inmates enrolled in PINS, examining the impact of prison-based and community network ties on post release outcomes including employment, housing, community social ties, health and recidivism.
                  • A subset of inmates who participated in the PINS study were recruited to participate in interviews after their release, with over 100 surveyed inmates  agreeing to do so.
                  • Exploratory interviews are presently being conducted throughout the state with inmates who have since been released to test methods and elucidate questions in support of a larger research agenda around inmate social networks and reentry experiences and outcomes.  Released inmates will be interviewed in several waves.
                  • This line of inquiry can lend important policy insight into how social capital and ties before, during and after prison impact reentry outcomes and promote successful offender reintegration.

                  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.

                  Using Novel Social Network Visualization Techniques to Aid in the Detection and Analysis of Deception in Internal Intelligence Data

                  Identifying elements of deception in utilizing social network visualization techniques is an under-researched topic that can vastly assist intelligence, national security, and law enforcement agencies. The ability to use social network analysis (SNA) metrics and techniques to identify deception will increase analytic efficiency, improve operations and protect lives. This work seeks to extend previous social network analysis research by Magnus Sköld and Christopher Yang et al. Our goal is to assess whether deception is detectable using traditional SNA methods. In part, this research seeks to answer the question: Can novel visualization techniques aid in the detection and analysis of deception in a social environment? Data derived from the SYNCOIN dataset (Graham, 2012) will serve as the foundation for this work. After translating the SYNCOIN data into its representative social network visualization, traditional SNA methods and techniques will be assessed for their ability to detect the various elements of deception that we know exist within the scenario. This research will be considered successful if we are able to use traditional SNA techniques, or develop novel techniques and metrics to accurately determine the elements of deception within the SYNCOIN data. This study will be exploratory in nature and will be primarily quantitative with qualitative interpretation of the results.

                  Project Team

                  • Principal Investigator: Tyler Yazujian, Undergraduate Student, Security and Risk Analysis, tjy5041@psu.edu
                  • Co-Investigators: Glenn Sterner, Post-Doctoral Scholar, Justice Center for Research, Department of Sociology and Criminology, ges5098@psu.edu; Peter Forster, Associate Dean for Online and Professional Education, College of Information Sciences and Technolog, pforster@ist.psu.edu; Col. Jacob Graham, Professor of Practice of Information Sciences and Techonlogy, jgraham@ist.psu.edu

                    About the Project

                    • This project serves as the master’s project for Tyler Yazujian.

                      Research Questions

                      • To what extent can novel social network visualization techniques aid in the detection and analysis of deception in a high-risk security environment?

                        Project Details

                        This project focuses on the following objectives:

                        1. Document the social networks of a terrorist network scenario and create a social network dataset.
                        2. Assess the viability of social network visualization and analysis method to detect deception (tactical, operational, or strategic).
                        3. Conduct an experiment to quantitatively describe how social network visualization can aid in deception detection.

                          Implications

                          This study will have important implications for utilizing social network analysis methodologies for detecting deception in intelligence gathering processes.  This will provide guidance on the use of this method within intelligence gathering, eliminating misinformation in intelligence, and assisting in keeping our military personnel and country more secure.

                          Project Products

                          • This will serve as the master’s project for Tyler Yazujian.
                          • This project engages Tyler Yazujian as a dual undergraduate/graduate student.

                          We anticipate a peer reviewed journal article to be submitted Fall 2016.