ISU sociologists earn National Institute of Justice grant to study Iowa prisoner reentry

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Two Iowa State University sociology professors have been awarded a $225,428 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grant in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Corrections to study prisoner reentry in Iowa. The researchers plan to assess the quality and appropriateness of rehabilitation treatment received by the inmates in predicting their chances of becoming repeat offenders.

David Peters, an assistant professor of sociology in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Andy Hochstetler, an associate professor of sociology who is on the faculty in ISU’s criminology and criminal justice program, were recipients of the grant for the project "Evaluating Reentry in Iowa: Context, treatment provision, individual propensity and recidivism." They are collaborating with Iowa Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin, Director of Offender Services Jerry Bartruff, and Director of Research Lettie Prell on the project.

The investigators have begun analyzing data on prisoner reentry within the state between 2007 and 2010.

"With Andy’s experience in the criminal justice system — particularly in probation and parole — and my expertise in rural community economics, we thought we could combine those two strengths to craft a unique proposal to find out what are the main drivers of offender reentry in Iowa across difference contexts," Peters said. "Since we’re a land-grant institution, it’s nice to have a grant project that addresses a critical issue within the state — one that has very applied, concrete applications to state policy."

"Combining our areas of expertise with the recognition that the Iowa Department of Corrections has very good data — and data from a lot of different sources that they’ve used for procedural reasons — is what makes this project possible," Hochstetler said. "All community corrections staff suspect that their clientele and their communities have characteristics that set them apart from others. We hope to show the degree to which that is the case and to determine how those things that can be managed influence outcomes for parolees." Analyzing Iowa Department of Corrections data The researchers plan to analyze data from the three-year period (2007-10) when the Iowa Department of Corrections transformed prison programming toward individually tailored treatment tracks. It began storing data on inmates from entry into the system through post-release. When the project is complete, the researchers will have assembled detailed data on inmate characteristics, the treatments they received, and the locales and communities where inmates were released.

Much of the work consists of developing multi-level models to account for the differing propensities of offenders to get treatment, the community and location characteristics that might contribute to success, and the quality and appropriateness of treatment received in predicting recidivism.

"One of the simple questions that we’re looking at is once you identify different offenders who have different primary treatment needs — and that’s going to be in the data — ‘What was an offender’s problem when he came in? And did he receive primary treatment needs, both inside [prison] and on the outside?’" Hochstetler said. "So we will know the importance of the varying primary treatment needs and whether treatment makes a difference.

"Another question we’ll be asking, as a practical matter, is ‘How big of a difference did it make instilling this [Iowa Department of Corrections] tracking mechanism?,’ instead of addressing things as needed, which is how it was done before 2007," he continued. Learning how inmate prospects have changed The ISU researchers hope to learn how inmate prospects have changed in light of shifts in the economy and administration improvements in Department of Corrections programs. They also plan to analyze the crime data by county and identify where the highest and lowest crime areas are in Iowa.

In the second year of the two-year project, Peters and Hochstetler will spend some time interviewing experts on community corrections throughout the state to help them contextualize their quantitative findings.

The researchers plan to write several reports on their findings and data as they progress, including a summary final report at the completion of the project.

  • Iowa State News Service