Faculty in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice have joined the Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and other partners to examine possible policy reforms and law enforcement trends in six key U.S. regions. In part because of UMD’s involvement, Prince George’s County, Maryland, was selected as one of the sites, along with Los Angeles; Toledo, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; Seattle; and St. Louis.
The core sites will use data analytics to inform policy discussions and reform regarding trends in the enforcement of lower level offenses. Through a generous $3.25-million, three-year grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the Research Network builds upon the success of the Misdemeanor Justice Project in New York City.
“Prince George’s County was selected, in part, because of its unique position as one of the wealthiest minority-majority communities in the United States, and because of the support of the county’s criminal justice leaders for evidence-based policy. The Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice has a longstanding relationship with Prince George’s County, and as a core site in this project, we aim to help inform policy decisions on critical issues regarding the role of the criminal justice system in responding to low-level misconduct,” said Professor James Lynch, chair of the department.
The Research Network is a national alliance of seven jurisdictions that will examine trends in the enforcement and disposition of lower-level offenses at a local level and, for the first time, at a cross-jurisdictional level. The Research Network, working with research institutions, data partners and stakeholders, aims to build data infrastructure at a local level.
The Network also seeks to inform smarter criminal justice policies that enhance public safety, increase public trust in the police, and implement fiscally responsible policies particularly surrounding behaviors that involve officer discretion.
The selection criteria for the six new sites included a commitment toward evidence-based reform in their local jurisdiction and the availability of high quality administrative data on arrests for lower level offenses, summonses, pedestrian stops and case outcome data including pretrial detention. The Research Network received 39 proposals, which indicates that there is an appetite for research in this arena. The local research partners, in addition to UMD, are the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Toledo; North Carolina Central University; Seattle University; and the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
“To see the work of the Misdemeanor Justice Project expand from New York City to six other jurisdictions is very exciting,” said Professor Preeti Chauhan, the Principal Investigator of Research Network. “We are looking forward to replicating the New York model to these sites and believe the results will guide smarter criminal justice reform.”
Enforcement of lower-level offenses has a profound impact on the criminal justice system. It can overwhelm the courts and delay case processing, often resulting in large numbers of individuals held on pretrial detention. It is also this high volume activity that serves as the basis of public’s opinion of the police and their assessment of the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. The Research Network is fully committed to working with criminal justice stakeholders to obtain accurate data, provide objective analyses, and disseminate findings to key stakeholders in the community, renowned scholars, and policymakers to spur a national dialogue on this high volume activity in the criminal justice system.
“Bringing these sites together to examine lower-level offenses is now more important than ever before as we have reached a critical juncture in criminal justice reform,” said Meredith Patten, the Executive Director of Research Network. “We are excited to work on a local level with each site and are looking forward to seeing how cross-site analyses can inform the national discourse.”
LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Matt Alsdorf stated: “The Network has generated an outpouring of academic and government interest in pioneering a national conversation around enforcement of lower-level crimes – something that leads a large number of individuals to enter our justice system. We are proud of the diverse U.S. cities leading this conversation and we look forward to learning how the research partnerships inform local and national justice policies for the long-term.”
The Research Network was launched in 2016 and is based on the successful experience of the Misdemeanor Justice Project, a research initiative at John Jay College led by Professor Chauhan. With support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, MJP has published a series of reports examining trends in the enforcement of low-level offenses in New York City and State including misdemeanor arrests, criminal summonses, and pedestrian stops as well as jail admissions. These studies have substantially informed criminal justice reform efforts now under way in New York.