Other Research Projects

Measuring the Effectiveness of Formal Mediation in Child Protection Cases

Principal Investigator: Cynthia Osborne
Funded by: Supreme Court of Texas Children's Commission

The use of formal mediation in child protection cases has become an increasingly common court practice. A report to the Commission in 2010 indicated that mediation in child protection enjoyed widespread support, with 85 percent of responding judges indicating they were very satisfied or satisfied that mediation in child protection cases serves the best interest of children. However, the report also noted that "to determine best practices and to assess the effectiveness of mediation to resolve child protection cases, courts need consistent and comparable data." In one Texas county in particular, the Model Court in Travis County presided over by The Honorable Darlene Byrne, this practice has been used regularly to resolve complex child protection cases for more than a decade, and thorough data have been kept for more than six years. Although this practice is now in widespread use, funding for child protection mediation remains a challenge for courts generally, and for the Model Court in particular. Little research has been conducted to determine whether mediation to resolve child protection cases is cost-effective and whether it leads to better child and family outcomes, such as permanency and timely resolution of the case.

The aim of this project is to determine whether the use of mediation in child protection cases is a cost-effective strategy that also leads to better outcomes for the children and families involved in these important cases.

An Education in Violence: Teaching and Learning to Kill in Central Texas

Principal Investigator: Harel Shapira
Funded by: Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation

Through ethnographic fieldwork at two gun schools located in Central Texas, my research expands and complements existing public health, public policy, and criminological approaches to gun violence by examining how Americans teach and learn to use guns. By participating in classes offered at these schools, by interviewing instructors and students, and by watching people become comfortable around guns, I move beyond accounts which document people’s motivations for having guns, to analyzing how they train their bodies and minds to kill.

The Maryland Prisoner Reentry Relocation Experiment

Principal Investigator: David Kirk
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

More than 700,000 prisoners are released from U.S. prisons each year, and estimates suggest that half of these individuals will be back in prison within just three years. The public health consequences of high levels of criminal recidivism are dire. Recidivists tend to be high rate criminal offenders who contribute substantially to the total volume of crime in a community. In turn, neighborhood crime, particularly violence, is a stressful condition that has a variety of detrimental health consequences. One reason for high rates of recidivism in the United States is the fact that many former prisoners return home to the same residential environment, with the same criminal peers and same criminal opportunities, where they resided before incarceration. Through a randomized controlled trial, this study aims to examine the counterfactual situation—that is, the effects on criminal recidivism of residential migration far away from former neighborhoods that is made possible by greater access to housing assistance. Working in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, project researchers will randomly assign voluntary parolee participants to treatment groups that are distinguished by the location of a housing subsidy equivalent to the fair market rent: 1) The experimental group of movers will receive a housing subsidy for use only in a designated geographic area. Offenders who resided in Baltimore City prior to incarceration will be provided a subsidy for housing in Prince George’s County, which is located more than 25 miles from Baltimore. Offenders who resided in Prince George’s County will be provided a subsidy for use in Baltimore City. 2) The housing comparison group of stayers will receive a housing subsidy for use in the jurisdiction where they resided immediately prior to incarceration. Before undertaking full implementation with a projected 125 participants per group, the project team will conduct a pilot test of 40 cases. This pilot will allow the project team to verify enrollment of a sufficient number of participants into the project, and to assess the extent to which these participants comply with their randomly assigned treatments. If the likelihood of criminal recidivism is lower when parolees reside in a geographic area different from where they resided prior to incarceration, then removing the institutional barriers to residential relocation may enhance public safety in aggregate and lower incarceration costs at the same time. In particular, it may be fruitful for public housing authorities to provide more housing opportunities for ex-offenders, especially in locations some distance from where the offender resided in the past. Moreover, if residential relocation reduces the likelihood of recidivism, then changes to the parole policies in many states that restrict (or at least discourage) residential mobility may be worth pursuing.

Environmental Uncertainties and Livelihood Thresholds in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Principal Investigator: Kelley Crews, Co-Principal Investigator: Kenneth Young
Additional Investigator: Brian King, The Pennsylvania State University
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This research will combine insights from both social and natural sciences to understand how variability and uncertainty in time and space impact human-environment interactions. The project will examine social responses to environmental variability, particularly precipitation and flooding. Of interest is how people maintain their livelihoods, and further how these strategies change in anticipation and in response to environmental change. Thus this work will also characterize the patterns of precipitation and flooding as well as their impacts on household farming, household collection of materials such as reeds, grasses, and wood, and individual entry into the tourism sector. The work will be positioned in the international treaty-recognized Wetland of Importance, the Okavango Delta (OD) of Botswana. Nestled within the Kalahari (Kgaligadi) Desert and flooded each year from Angolan highland precipitation, the OD has experienced vastly dramatic changes in precipitation and flooding in the last several decades. This rural area's population is highly dependent on the natural resource base, either directly (e.g., farming, reed collection) or indirectly (e.g., the wildlife-oriented ecotourism industry). It is therefore further hypothesized that these fluctuations have increased people's uncertainty about the availability of water and the timing / magnitude of flooding, impacting their decisions about which and how many livelihood strategies to employ. The overall project research goals are as follows: 1) quantify environmental change in the OD human-environment system, with particular respect to precipitation and flooding; 2) capture the distribution of natural resources over space and time using field-collected and satellite-derived data; 3) map resource activity areas and management / tenure systems to better understand livelihood decision-making; 4) assess how environmental change impacts livelihood strategy selection, and, in turn, how these decisions impact the environment; and 5) evaluate the utility of a human-environment system framework for understanding dynamic systems such as the OD.

The Maryland Prisoner Reentry Relocation Experiment: Pilot Study

Principal Investigator: David Kirk
Funded by: The Smith Richardson Foundation

Residential relocation far away from former neighborhoods creates a physical separation between an individual and his or her criminal peers and the criminal opportunities ever-present in a familiar environment. This move can thus lower the likelihood of recidivism. Research supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation provides initial support for this hypothesis. Kirk (2009; 2012) used the neighborhood destruction in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina as a natural experiment to investigate the effects of residential change on recidivism. He found substantial reductions in rates of reincarceration among ex-offenders who moved away from their former parishes. Offenders who moved were 14 percentage points less likely to be reincarcerated. Research is needed to discover whether these findings from a unique natural experiment can be replicated through intentional policy decisions, and to confirm whether the findings hold in a true experimental design. This proposed project will provide the first such demonstration of whether residential relocation, incentivized through a housing subsidy, leads to subsequent reductions in criminal recidivism.

Violence in Urban Communities

Principal Investigator: Javier Auyero 
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Through a combination of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and survey research in a poor working class neighborhood, a squatter settlement, and a shantytown in metropolitan Buenos Aires, this project seeks to a) examine in real time and space the ways in which diverse forms of violence are experienced by those routinely exposed to them, b) explain the recent increase of daily violence in poor communities in Argentina by scrutinizing the complex causal pathways that lead to what I call “violences in chain,” and c) dissect the (individual and collective) strategies that poor residents devise to cope with different kinds of violence. As such, the project joins the recent call made by social scientists to examine the ways in which diverse forms of violence form a continuum and seeks to draw attention to the “peace time crimes” or the “little violences” that define the everyday life in the communities where the urban poor dwell.

The Social Production of Risk Perception

Principal Investigator: Javier Auyero 
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project will use ethnography, archival research, and oral history to a) describe the life-threatening effects of environmental contamination in three highly polluted marginalized communities in the Americas , b) explain the (sometimes puzzling and contradictory) meanings their poor residents ascribe to it, and c) examine the links between shared understandings about the effects of contamination on residents’ health and the cycles of mobilization and de-mobilization around environmental matters that these communities have witnessed during the past two decades. The main questions this project will address are the following: How do poor people make sense of (and cope with) toxic danger? When and why do they understand (and act on) what is objectively a clear and present danger? When and how do shared understandings about threatening pollution trigger collective action?