Advanced Research in Criminal Justice
This course will function much like a one-semester Policy Research Project (PRP) insofar as the focus of the class will be a group research effort guided by the instructor. The results of this research project will form the basis of a more comprehensive project still in its conceptual stages. The project is called the “Prison Safety Assessment Project,” and the objective of our work will be to develop a framework for determining meaningful metrics by which the safety of individual prison facilities can be compared across and within states. Additionally, the instructor is exploring the possibility of this class doing one or more research projects on behalf of a Texas legislative committee in conjunction with the committee’s interim charges relevant to criminal justice. If this works out, then the class will likely be sub-divided into various teams to work on one of the projects. The first few weeks of the course will involve substantive classes and a few short assigned readings to provide students with the necessary background for their research projects. After that, the class will function more informally, with regular meetings between student teams and the instructor to ensure ongoing progress. Although this is considered an “advanced” class, there is no prerequisite for the course. However, preference will be given to students who have taken a previous class with the instructor, those who have previously completed a PRP, and those with prior exposure to criminal justice issues. Students interested in registering should speak with the instructor as soon as possible to ensure it is a good fit for them. Further Details about Research Project Periodically, a newspaper headline will declare a particular prison to be “the most dangerous prison in America” and will tout its high rates of gang violence or deaths in custody. But how do we really know how this facility compares to others? Data collection practices are inconsistent from state to state; not all statistics are reported publicly; and there may be other determinants of inmate safety (e.g., effectiveness of medical care; suicide rates; sexual assaults; etc.) or other factors we would want to take into account (e.g., lawsuits filed, staffing ratios, staff worker compensation claims, etc.). Our tasks in this course will be to determine which metrics we would want to know in order to assess prisoner safety in a facility; to gather preliminary information about what data is routinely collected in a sampling of prison systems across the US; and to develop a workable structure by which we can collect and analyze comparable sets of data. We will not actually be doing the data collection and analysis at this time, other than perhaps a pilot effort. We may be able to work collaboratively with a national media outlet on this project. Learning Goals Through this class, students will develop skills in conceptualizing a significant research project that will be of immediate use to policymakers, corrections practitioners, journalists, and advocates. They will also learn how to identify and find relevant data and how to develop systems for managing and analyzing this data. They will also improve their teamwork skills. Students will also learn about key issues in prison operations and management that affect prisoners’ rights and safety. If we are able to work on a project on behalf of a Texas legislative committee, students will also learn about some of the key criminal justice issues facing the state, and about researching and writing for a legislative audience. Course Requirements and Grading Students are expected to attend all classes and team meetings, participate fully in the group work activities, submit work to their teammates in a timely manner, and use their best efforts to produce work product that is well-written, accurate, and responsive to the assignments. Written submissions will likely include both a short individual writing assignment and a team-authored paper, as well as a self-assessment. Students will be graded on the basis of the quality of their individual contributions to the group project, the overall group project (a team grade), their individual writing assignment, and on class participation.