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JPAM Featured Article: "Testing the School-to-Prison Pipeline"

September 19, 2016 12:00 PM

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: Emily Owens, Ph.D.

What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?

I have been studying the effect of COPS grants on policing, crime, and arrests since I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. In my paper with Bill Evans, "COPS and Crime," we found that COPS in Schools grants had a large, but statistically imprecise, impact on officially reported crime, and when I spoke with grant writers in police departments, COPS in Schools grants would occasionally come up. At the time that we were writing that paper, the grants were too new to properly evaluate.  
In 2012, I was a research scholar in residence at the Police Foundation, in Washington DC. While there, my research became more focused on how police interact with the community. After Michael Brown was killed, there was a period of time where it seemed as if every few weeks another cell phone video of a police officer having a violent confrontation with a child was going viral. The question of whether or not having School Resource Officers, police officers stationed in schools, was a good idea became suddeny something that the general public was very interested in, and like most issues involving police force, there is not much hard data available. I knew from my previous research that using the COPS grants was a way to isolate the impact of having police officers in schools on school saftey, and how many kids were becoming involved with the criminal justice system because of this specific policing strategy.   

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)

The relationship between School Resource Officers and young adults is complicated. If you were to suddenly put a new SRO in a school, that is probably going to make the school a little bit safer, and every kids has the right to be safe at school. At the same time, it will also probably be the case that a few more young children, children under the age of 14, are going to become involved with the justice system. 

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?

A huge amount of public attention has been focused (as it should be) on how policed many black and brown kids are relative to most white kids in the US. I found little evidence that SROs improve the realtionship between the general community and the police on average. While there isn't great coverage of big cities in the data that I used, I did examine how the impact of SROs varied across suburban areas and mid-sized cities with different racial compositions. If you looked at areas where there are young people of color, the pattern of results suggested that hiring an SRO actually may improve trust in the police more in those places.    

Authors' Bio

emily_owensEmily Owens, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine. She also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Economics. Professor Owens studies a wide range of topics in the economics of crime, including policing, sentencing, and the impact of local public policies on criminal behavior. This includes studying how government policies affect the prevalence of criminal activity as well as how agents within the criminal justice system, particularly police, prosecutors, and judges, respond to policy changes. Professor Owens recently completed an NIJ-funded field experiment evaluating a police training program, and is engaged in ongoing research projects on alcohol regulation, immigration policy, and local economic development programs. Professor Owens received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Maryland-College Park.

Check out the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management online.


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