The following research projects focus on efforts to analyze key developments and contribute to theory related to the operation of systems of criminal justice, the interlocking nature of such systems, as well as aspects of law and case processing, and the strengthening of judicial processes.

Project Title: Power, Knowledge and Evidence:  The Social Structure of the Production of Knowledge

Affiliated Faculty: Kate Auerhahn

Description: Foucault’s genealogical method is combined with Donald Black’s framework of “pure sociology” to elucidate the relationship between social-structural inequality and the discursive environment of the courtroom. Rules governing the admissibility of evidence on grounds of relevance structure and limit the forms in which “truth” is constructed in court proceedings.    The analysis demonstrates that the formalized discourse of the courts – with specific focus on the rules of evidence – constitutes and reproduces dynamics of structural inequality.  Practices examined include the discourses surrounding admissibility and relevance, privilege exclusions, and the structure of ritualized courtroom operations and procedures such as arraignments, bail hearings, adjudication and sentencing.  The analysis reveals the ways in which evidentiary discourse reflects and ultimately reproduces social-structural relations of power and inequality with respect to various bases of stratification such as social integration, cultural legitimacy, and socioeconomic status.

Project Title: Cannabis Decriminalization, Law Enforcement Activity in Philadelphia, and Impact on State Correctional Institutions

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică

Description: Vîlcică, in collaboration with researchers from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, will too use interrupted time series analyses to examine the impact of the marijuana decriminalization in Philadelphia on the state’s correctional institutions. For control purposes, the study will examine prison trends in: a) other drugs and non-drug related sentences; b) admissions and releases from prison pre- and post-intervention; and c) correctional institutions in the Philadelphia county and other comparable PA counties not undergoing similar interventions. Lastly, basic cost-savings analysis will also be conducted. The results should help inform current policy debate on marijuana decriminalization or legalization on a wider scale.

Project Title: The Victim-Offender Overlap: Examining Police and Service System Networks of Response among Violent Conflicts

Funding Agency: National Institute of Justice

Affiliated Faculty: Caterina Roman, Jerry Ratcliffe, Sharon Ostrow

Description:This project will examine how police and victim service system networks respond after violent street conflicts, and whether victims with offense/arrest histories are treated differently from victims who are not labeled as offenders.

Project Title:The Parole Decision as a Critical Liberty Decision and Its Implications for Justice

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică

Description: In a series of inter-related research drawing on data from a recent comprehensive review of parole and correctional processes in Pennsylvania, Vîlcică examines the nature of parole decisionmaking and factors that explain variation in the decision to grant release. One line of inquiry, for example, focuses on testing for punitive themes in parole decisionmaking (Vîlcică, 2016, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology) while another explores the role that visits to inmates who are serving their sentences have on parole decisions, a first attempt in the literature to link research on parole decision making with reentry research on prison visitation (Vîlcică, 2015, Journal of Criminal Justice). Both studies raise critical issues about the role of the parole decision in the overall justice process and concerns about fairness deriving from the discretionary nature of the decision. Future related work will examine variation in parole decisions due to decision maker and organizational attributes.

Project Title: Bail, Pretrial Detention, and Case Dismissal: Punishment without Conviction?

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică

Description: Many defendants spend a significant amount of time in pretrial detention awaiting the adjudication of their cases only to have all charges against them dismissed. Considering that the main determinant of pretrial detention is the amount of cash bail assigned (i.e., many defendants cannot afford to post required bail), the pretrial detention of those defendants who do not get convicted of the crimes accused of raises serious questions of justice regarding the adjudication process. The goal of this study is to analyze the connection between the bail decision, the ensuing pretrial release/detention status, and the final case outcome. Using a sample of criminal defendants from Philadelphia, PA, predictive analyses will attempt to identify the factors predicting both the bail decision and the dismissal decision, and whether the pretrial detention/release status in itself plays a role in explaining case dismissal. Implications for policy will be addressed, particularly focusing on the use of pretrial detention as “punishment without conviction.”

Project Title: Mortality’ in Criminal Cases in a Comparative View: The Production of Dismissals in Adversarial and Inquisitorial Justice Systems and Their Implications for Justice

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică

Description: Case attrition in criminal justice processing is a phenomenon that occurs in all criminal justice systems, regardless of their underlying legal foundations, yet no research has attempted to explain its variation from a comparative perspective. This study will fill in this gap. The analyses will draw on comparable available aggregate data and will emphasize the implications of case mortality for the achievement of shared justice goals in the two types of legal systems.

Project Title: The Penology of Justice for Minors in the United States and Europe: Dedicated System or Mainstream Justice?

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică

Description: In contrast to the United States, many European countries do not have separate, specialized courts dedicated to the processing of delinquent youth. However, reform efforts there, especially in the most recent EU country members, are considering experimenting with such courts. In efforts to contribute to such discussions, this research will critically compare the merits of adopting a dedicated juvenile court system in Romania (a recent EU member) versus maintaining processing in the mainstream courts, drawing on lessons from the relatively long history of the American juvenile court.

Project Title: Official Contact, Official Actions, Procedural Justice, and System Legitimacy

Affiliated Faculty: E. Rely Vîlcică and Jeff Ward

Description: In September 2008, then-Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell imposed a moratorium on all parole releases from the state’s correctional institutions, following several killings of police officers by parolees recently released from prison. The moratorium was lifted in stages, with the parole process being fully restored in Spring 2009. The moratorium had several wide-ranging unintended consequences for the parole and corrections systems in the state. In recent investigations, Vîlcică documents the impact of the moratorium on parole practices, correctional processes, inmates, and correctional staff, and ultimately on the legitimacy of the two agencies affected, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and the Department of Corrections (Vîlcică, 2016, European Journal on Criminal Policy & Research, and Corrections: Policy, Practice and Research). Ongoing investigations, in collaboration with the researchers from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and University of Maryland, use the moratorium as a case study in procedural justice in corrections, with a focus on both inmate behavior (e.g., amplification of misconduct) and inmate perceptions of the moratorium’s impact on incarcerated individuals (collected through qualitative data during the moratorium period). This corrections-based research should add substantively to the current body of knowledge on procedural justice and system legitimacy, which so far has emphasized earlier contact between citizens and the justice system.

Official contact with the criminal justice system can have deleterious, unintended consequences as suggested by labeling theory.  Research on the sanction-crime relationship has drawn increased attention to factors or conditions which affect the consequences of contact with the formal criminal justice system.  Recent collaborative work with Dr. Megan Augustyn has illustrated that high perceptions of procedural justice can prevent deviance amplification among a sample of serious juvenile offenders (Augustyn & Ward, 2015, Journal of Criminal Justice).  Increased attention to procedural justice is important because, unlike some moderating factors that have received attention in the literature like prior delinquency, sex, and race/ethnicity, treatment of offenders is within the purview of criminal justice system actors.

Project Title: Criminal justice reform and labor markets in the 21st century

Affiliated Faculty: Kate Auerhahn

Description: Over the last three decades, the US prison population grew dramatically, largely fueled by the enforcement of policies associated with the War on Drugs.  At the same time, the American economic system underwent radical transformation, characterized by growth in highly-skilled sector occupations and decline in unskilled jobs as a result of automation and foreign outsourcing, as well as declines in labor demand generally, as evidenced by three years of a “slack” labor market.  Current trends in criminal justice, such as increased interest in reentry and in reducing rates of return for former prisoners, as well as the growing movement toward drug policy reform, if continued, will ultimately result in the decarceration and reintroduction of large numbers of men and women into the labor market, the vast majority of whom are qualified for (at best) unskilled occupations.  These individuals are largely superfluous to the current economic system; given the cultural and social primacy of remunerative employment, the integration of these men and women into modern American society presents a significant social policy challenge.  Because the American economy is unlikely to evolve in ways that will absorb these individuals, alternative approaches to addressing both the labor market discrepancy and the consequent implications for crime merit exploration.  This project focuses on the idea of citizenship rights, and the idea of Guaranteed Basic Income, modeling a comparison of the costs of such a policy as compared to those of incarceration over the life course.