Research Report Digest, Issue 14

February 2014
In NIJ's Research Report Digest, you will find brief descriptions of studies in a variety of criminal justice disciplines, such as crime and forensic sciences, and evaluations of technologies used in the law enforcement and corrections fields.

This issue includes reports based on NIJ-funded research that were added to the NCJRS Abstracts Database from October–December 2013.

Find research reports related to:


Evaluation of the Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Program, Final Report (PDF, 359 pages)
Authors: Seri Irazola, Ph.D.; Erin Williamson; Emily Niedzwiecki; Sara Debus-Sherill; Julie Stricker

The increased use of automated notification during the past two decades has created a need for developing, implementing and operating Automated Victim Notification (AVN) systems so they better support victims of crime. This evaluation provides new insight into AVN systems in the United States, including notification methods, restrictions on use of or access to AVN services, common events that trigger AVN notifications, AVN services for individuals with disabilities, and challenges and limitations in planning, implementing and operating AVN systems. However, the authors indicate a need for additional research on the population of AVN system users, how AVN services affect victims who are not seeking services or participating in the criminal justice process, safeguards for protecting users' privacy and anonymity, the range and effectiveness of different AVN marketing strategies, the potential impact of system termination, and promising practices for transitioning notification services in a victim-centered manner. They also recommend reviewing the Bureau of Justice Assistance's Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Program training and technical assistance program to ensure that the services provided effectively meet the needs of states and enhance their AVN services.

See also:

Findings from the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships Study (RPPS)

Research has great potential to effect change in practice and policy when (a) it is conducted in collaboration with practitioners rather than solely by academic researchers, and (b) its findings are clearly communicated to the people who influence policy and practice. NIJ has strongly promoted research collaborations with criminal justice practitioners, resulting in many successful partnerships. Until recently, however, just what contributed to such success had not been documented, synthesized or shared in a way that could inform the development of successful partnerships in the future. The goal of this study was to improve understanding of successful researcher-practitioner collaborations and to share any lessons learned, thereby promoting the creation of new partnerships and enhancing existing ones.

Courts and Corrections

Study of Victim Experiences of Wrongful Conviction (PDF, 105 pages)
Authors: Seri Irazola, Ph.D.; Erin Williamson; Julie Stricker; Emily Niedzwiecki

Over the past three decades, the rate of exonerations has more than doubled, from an average of 24 per year during 1989–1999 to an average of 52 per year during 2000–2010. In 2012, ICF International conducted 11 case studies to ensure that victims' voices informed study findings and to obtain more detailed information about the experiences and needs of victims during and after exoneration. The findings from this study highlight the impact of wrongful convictions on victims and the lack of adequate services for this population as well as the need for additional research to ascertain how victim experiences differ with regard to demographics, types of crime, and the factors associated with wrongful conviction and subsequent exoneration.

Legal Change and Sentencing Norms in Federal Court: An Examination of the Impact of the Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough Decisions (PDF, 75 pages)
Authors: Mona Lynch; Marisa Omori

The federal sentencing guidelines have lost their authoritative force since the U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Booker (2005), Gall v. U.S. (2007) and Kimbrough v. U.S. (2007), declared that they are merely advisory in determining criminal sentences in federal court. This research looked at how, and to what extent, sentencing in federal drug trafficking cases has changed over time because of the Booker, Gall and Kimbrough decisions and previous policy reforms. The findings suggest that sentencing policy changes at the national level — including reforms mandated by these cases — neither uniformly nor dramatically transformed sentencing practices. Factors in individual cases were the best predictor of sentencing outcomes over all time periods. Sentencing behavior across districts changed incrementally over time but did not dramatically shift during major policy changes. When the researchers examined individual districts' sentencing practices over time, they found consistency within districts but differences among districts.

Evaluability Assessments of the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) Model
Authors: Ian A. Elliott, Ph.D.; Gary Zajac, Ph.D.; Courtney A. Meyer, M.A.

Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) is a restorative justice-based reentry program for high-risk sex offenders with little or no prosocial support. This report outlines an assessment of COSA across five sites to clarify program intent, explore program reality, examine program data capacity, analyze program fidelity and propose potential evaluation designs for future evaluation. The authors visited five locations that deliver or intend to deliver COSA programs in the United States: Fresno, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Durham, N.C.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Burlington, Vt. During these visits, they interviewed key program personnel and other stakeholders and collected documents related to COSA policies and procedures. They then analyzed the collected data using a fidelity item measurement tool. The authors identified five potential obstacles to conducting a successful experimental evaluation of COSA: 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.

FY 2011 Second Chance Act Adult Offender Reentry Demonstration Projects Evaluability Assessment

Prisoner reentry remains a pressing local and national policy issue. Through the Second Chance Act of 2008, the Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded dozens of adult offender reentry demonstration grants to communities nationwide. NIJ commissioned an evaluability assessment (EA) of some of these sites. EAs are crucial in determining whether projects can be evaluated meaningfully. Based on the EA findings, all nine sites are viable candidates for further evaluation:

A Case Study of the Response of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act Consent Decree (PDF, 95 pages)
Authors: Scott H. Decker, Ph.D.; Melanie Taylor, Ph.D.; Charles M. Katz, Ph.D.

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) of 1980 allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate correctional facilities. Examining the federal intervention process is important to understanding how state institutions respond to and enforce policy recommendations even after investigations have concluded. Following a DOJ CRIPA investigation that found that facilities of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC).violated the constitutional and federal statutory rights of the youth residents, DOJ and the state of Arizona entered into a consent decree to sustain gains made during the implementation period after DOJ concluded its work. As a result, ADJC administrators developed a strategic plan to guide the organizational changes over a 3-year period.

Unobtrusive Suicide Warning System, Final Technical Report, Phase III (PDF, 202 pages)
Authors: Jeffrey M. Ashe; Ghulam Baloch; Meena Ganesh; Catherine Graichen; Nicholas Soldner; Vijay Lakamraju; Joe Zacchio; Mark Vogel

The rate of in-custody suicide is lower than that of the general public, largely due to comprehensive screening, assessment, treatment and surveillance programs for at-risk inmates. Despite the low rate, inmate suicide remains a problem for correctional institutions because of the loss of life and the failure to protect those in custody. Even rare suicide incidents tarnish the reputation of law enforcement, increase litigation costs and necessitate more continuous inmate monitoring. The goal of this multiphase program was to develop a remote sensing system that captures and assesses vital signs of inmates at risk for suicide. This phase contributes significantly to the development of a deployable system for monitoring inmates' physical status in the prison environment.

Assessing the Relationship between Exposure to Violence and Inmate Maladjustment within and Across State Correctional Facilities (PDF, 80 pages)
Authors: Benjamin Steiner, Ph.D.; Benjamin Meade, Ph.D.

Offenders are exposed to violence at a higher rate than the general population, but whether this contributes to subsequent maladjustment once they are incarcerated is unclear. Differences among facilities and particular features of prison environments may be equally important in determining the strength of the relationship between exposure to violence and inmate maladjustment. Using data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities and the Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, the authors examined the relationship between exposure to violence and maladjustment within and across state-operated prisons and correctional facilities nationwide. Findings show that exposure to violence before incarceration had an impact on inmates' adjustment during imprisonment, and exposure to some types of violence (e.g., child abuse) was more likely to contribute to inmate maladjustment than exposure to other types. In addition, the strength of the relationship between exposure to different types of violence and some forms of maladjustment varied across facilities and was influenced by facility characteristics. 


Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Implementation and Collaborative Process: What Works Best for the Criminal Justice System? (PDF, 226 pages)
Authors: Rebecca Campbell, Ph.D.; Megan Greeson, Ph.D.; Deborah Bybee, Ph.D.; Jennifer Watling Neal, Ph.D.

Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) coordinate the efforts of rape crisis centers and of the legal, medical and mental health systems to improve outcomes for victims who are seeking help. Research has documented that SART interventions may differ across communities. In the first study of this project, the authors examined the relationship between SART structure and effectiveness. Findings suggest that a formal structure, regular collaborative processes, and active participation of diverse stakeholders are key components of successful SARTs. The second study examined the structure of interorganizational relationships within model SARTs. Results revealed a high degree of communication and strong relationships within and across sectors but also noted occasional stratification of the SART relationships. Evidence indicated that interorganizational SART relationships tend to be mutually supportive and positively correlated with one another.

Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships (PDF, 61 pages)
Authors: Anne P. DePrince, Ph.D.; Ann T. Chu, Ph.D.; Jennifer Labus, Ph.D.; Stephen R. Shirk, Ph.D.; Cathryn Potter, Ph.D.

Revictimization — the occurrence of two or more incidents of violence against the same individual — poses an enormous criminal justice problem. Adolescent girls in the child welfare system are at high risk of revictimization in teen dating relationships and later in adulthood. Most interventions involving teens have focused on preventing physical (not sexual) violence among youth not previously exposed to violence, and they frequently target youth in school settings. This study placed adolescent girls who were in the child welfare system in one of two interventions that targeted theoretically distinct risk factors for revictimization. A subgroup of girls never attended either intervention or only attended one session; these girls served as the comparison group. Girls who participated in one of the two interventions were three to five times less likely to report sexual or physical revictimization than girls in the comparison group. In addition, they reported significant decreases in their own and their partners' aggressive conflict tactics. These findings show that high‐risk youth can be successfully engaged outside school settings, which is particularly important given that many of the participating girls would not otherwise be reached by traditional, school‐based dating violence programs.

Forensic Sciences

Developing Regional Taphonomic Standards (PDF, 98 pages)
Author: Marcella H. Sorg

This project developed regionally specific standards for collecting and interpreting taphonomic (postmortem) data from human skeletal remains in northern New England. Researchers analyzed a 30‐year outdoor case series and conducted controlled observational studies of nine pig cadavers to identify key components of the model. The research suggests important ways in which forensic cases in northern New England differ from those in other regions in terms of heat, moisture and scavenger involvement. Research results are being used by the Maine and New Hampshire criminal justice communities. This regional taphonomy information system approach can be adopted in other regions, with the potential to compare data across regions.

Significance of Association in Tool Mark Characterization (PDF, 54 pages)
Authors: L.S. Chumbley; M. Morris 

In a recent study of toolmarks produced by sequentially made screwdriver tips, the authors developed a computer algorithm that reliably separated matching toolmarks from those that do not match to increase the statistical relevance of toolmark analysis. They applied a data analysis, based on Mann-Whitney U-statistics, of files containing two-dimensional information obtained with an optical profilometer. The results indicate that significance of association can be accomplished through statistical evaluation of the data files. The work in the current project (discussed in this report) provides additional statistical information that increases the relevance of the measurements.

Development and Analysis of Electrical Receptacle Fires (PDF, 346 pages)
Authors: Matthew E. Benfer; Daniel T. Gottuk

Laboratory testing evaluated the impact of a range of variables on the formation of overheated connections in residential duplex electrical receptacles. The authors documented the damage to the receptacle, faceplate and outlet box, including any arcing, overheating or melting. Results of lab testing indicated that only the loosest connections tended to overheat significantly, regardless of other variables such as receptacle materials and installation. Researchers found that forensic evidence of overheating persists after a fire exposure. They identified and characterized this evidence and analyzed the characteristic indicators and locations of arcing and melting within receptacles as a result of fire exposure.

Opening the Black Box of NIBIN: A Process and Outcome Evaluation of the use of NIBIN and Its Effects on Criminal Investigations, Final Report (PDF, 116 pages)
Authors: William King; William Wells; Charles Katz; Edward Maguire; James Frank

Scientists from Sam Houston State University, Arizona State University, American University and the University of Cincinnati evaluated the operations of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Through NIBIN, firearms examiners at state and local crime laboratories compare toolmarks on fired bullets or cartridges found at a crime scene (ballistic evidence), convert them into digitized images, and enter them in a national database. Tactically, law enforcement can use a NIBIN hit to link crimes not previously known to be related and to potentially identify suspects. Strategically, NIBIN can help law enforcement understand larger patterns of gun crime, including activities of street gangs and drug cartels. The scientists assessed the value of NIBIN database "hits" in solving crimes involving firearms. Implementation of NIBIN varied greatly across sites with respect to staffing, data input, and timeliness in processing evidence and identifying hits. The researchers made extensive recommendations on tactics and strategies that NIBIN could find valuable, including:

  • Adding "force-multipliers," such as geocodes and criminal records data, to hit reports.
  • Creating standardized measures for evaluating the performance of local NIBIN sites.
  • Establishing an ATF R&D program on innovative practices to use at NIBIN sites, particularly those that would expedite the timely identification of hits.

The researchers briefed ATF officials on their findings, and ATF outlined steps it is taking to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of NIBIN. Although the researchers noted that ATF's progress was impressive, they questioned whether these changes were sustainable, given ATF's severe fiscal restraints.

See also the executive summary, Opening the Black Box of NIBIN: A Descriptive Process and Outcome Evaluation of the use of NIBIN and Its Effects on Criminal Investigations, Executive Summary (PDF, 10 pages) by William King; William Wells; Charles Katz; Edward Maguire; James Frank.

Law Enforcement

Predictive Policing: The Role of Crime Forecasting in Law Enforcement Operations (PDF, 189 pages)
Authors: Walter L. Perry; Brian McInnis; Carter C. Price; Susan C. Smith; John S. Hollywood

Despite its name, predictive policing does not pinpoint where and when the next crime will occur. Rather, this analytical tool helps police identify likely targets for intervention to prevent crime and solve past crimes and supports developing effective strategies and conducting more effective investigations. Through a grant from NIJ, the RAND Corporation has released Predictive Policing: The Role of Crime Forecasting in Law Enforcement Operations, a practical guide for departments interested in using predictive policing. The report assesses the most promising tools and tactical approaches for the prediction and prevention of crimes such as gang activity and burglary.

Investigating the Impact of In-car Communication on Law Enforcement Officer Patrol Performance in an Advanced Driving Simulator, Final Report (PDF, 59 pages)
Authors: Carrick Williams, Ph.D.; Daniel Carruth, Ph.D.; Teena Garrison, Ph.D.; John McGinley, B.S.

This project used an advanced driving simulator to evaluate the impact of radio dispatches on law enforcement officers' driving and patrol behaviors. The project investigated the impact of two aspects of in-vehicle technology on law enforcement patrols: (1) the display of dispatch information on the car's mobile data terminal and (2) dispatch communication in either coded format or more natural language. Findings reveal some evidence that driving performance is affected by radio communication with dispatch, particularly in coded format. There is also evidence that providing redundant dispatch instructions on a dynamic in-car display does not impair performance and in some cases may improve it.

See also the executive summary Investigating the Impact of In-car Communication on Law Enforcement Officer Patrol Performance in an Advanced Driving Simulator, Executive Summary (PDF, 8 pages) by Carrick Williams, Ph.D.; Daniel Carruth, Ph.D.; Teena Garrison, Ph.D.; John McGinley, B.S.