Research Report Digest, Issue 6

July 2012

In NIJ’s Research Report Digest, you will find brief descriptions of studies in a variety of criminal justice disciplines, such as criminology and forensic sciences, and evaluations of technologies that are 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 through December 2011.

Find research reports related to:

Courts


Doing Death in Texas: Language and Jury Decision-Making in Texas Death Penalty Trials
Author: Robin Helene Conley

This dissertation examines the means through which language and culture make death-penalty decisions possible by analyzing jury decision-making in Texas death-penalty trials. The study focuses on how specific language choices mediate and restrict jurors', attorneys' and judges' actions and experiences when engaging in and reflecting on capital trials. The dissertation shows that when engaged in an overtly violent state practice (i.e., killing convicted individuals), jurors, attorneys and judges veil and confront their involvement in the violence inherent in this practice. When citing the act of execution, jurors often shift the decision to kill the convicted person onto the state or deny that human beings have engaged in an enterprise set up to kill another human. Another mechanism for jurors to avoid the anxiety linked to killing a fellow human being is to embrace the linguistic dehumanization of defendants. Jurors effectively suppress empathy and the realization that the defendant is, in many respects, like themselves, although with a different background and set of experiences and behaviors. Any worth the defendant may have as a fellow human being is removed by linguistic repetitions that convince jurors the defendant has done things that disqualify him or her from being treated as a fellow human being. The dissertation argues that language is one of the primary resources by which jurors frame defendants as nonhuman, and thus decide to sentence them to death. The research involved 12 months of fieldwork in and around Houston, Texas. It included interviews of jurors, attorneys, judges and prison staff; participant observation in death penalty trials; audio recordings and note taking of these trials; and qualitative linguistic analyses of transcribed interviews and courtroom interaction.

Read the complete report Doing Death in Texas: Language and Jury Decision-Making in Texas Death Penalty Trials (pdf, 317 pages)


NIJ's Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation

This five-year longitudinal process, impact and cost evaluation of adult treatment drug court programs sampled nearly 1,800 drug court and non-drug-court probationers from 29 rural, suburban and urban jurisdictions across the United States. The sample includes 23 drug courts and six comparison groups in eight states. The expectation is that program participation will result in long-term benefits, which include declines in drug use and criminal behavior.

The MADCE study addresses several research questions:

  • What is the impact of adult drug courts on alcohol and other drug use, criminal recidivism, employment and other outcomes?
  • What community, program and offender characteristics predict these short- and long-term outcomes?
  • How do changes in short-term outcomes — such as offender views and attitudes — mediate the impact of programs on long-term outcomes?
  • Are there cost savings attributable to drug court programs?

Read the complete reports:

Crime


Final Technical Report: Neighborhoods, Recidivism, and Employment Among Returning Prisoners
Authors: Jeffrey D. Morenoff and David J. Harding

This study examined the influence of community context on the labor-market outcomes and recidivism of former prisoners paroled in Michigan in 2003. The study found neighborhood features were strong predictors of recidivism and labor-market outcomes. No single factor makes a neighborhood a "risky" environment for parolees. Neighborhood socioeconomic composition was a strong predictor of labor-market outcomes because parolees who lived in disadvantaged neighborhoods had difficulty getting employment and escaping poverty. The most robust protective factor for recidivism was living in a residentially stable neighborhood; the most robust risk factor for recidivism was living in neighborhoods with higher densities of young people. Carefully evaluating a parolee's neighborhood when approving new housing sites might improve outcomes. Other measures could include placing institutional housing for former prisoners in more advantaged neighborhoods, and inclusion of neighborhood context in risk assessment to improve targeting services to former prisoners living in high-risk neighborhoods.

Read the complete report Final Technical Report: Neighborhoods, Recidivism, and Employment Among Returning Prisoners (pdf, 132 pages)


Jihad, Crime, and the Internet: Content Analysis of Jihadist Forum Discussions
Authors: Edna Erez, Gabriel Weimann, and A. Aaron Weisburd

This study presents quantitative and qualitative assessments of the content of communications in the forum discussions on Jihadist websites that are of most concern to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The study's findings show that most Jihadist online forum discussions are brief, involve few participants from the registered forum members, and include few entries and pages. Forum participants often refer viewers to an approved website and share genuine Jihadist multimedia. References and quotes from religious sources are common. Just over one-third of the discussions include calls for Jihad, and three percent of the communications discuss nonterrorist illegal activities, especially computer-related and software-related offenses. The forum discussions include four categories of content: information dissemination, religious preaching, instruction or training, and social interactions. These content categories support three core activities of the terrorist organization: ideological foundation, organizational structure, and operational means.

Read the complete report Jihad, Crime, and the Internet: Content Analysis of Jihadist Forum Discussions (pdf, 179 pages)


A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment
Authors: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, and Georgia F. Cumming

This study tested models that combined static and dynamic risk measures that might predict sexual recidivism for adult male sex offenders better than any one measure alone. The study found that a logistic regression model that combined measures from both dynamic and static risk instruments consistently predicted recidivism and outperformed either instrument alone when both instruments had similar predictive power. Static risk factors are unchangeable aspects of a person's history, whereas dynamic risk factors are potentially changeable. Risk-needs instruments help treatment providers in deciding the aspects of an offender's behavior, attitudes and needs (dynamic factors) that are susceptible to change that leads to the decrease or elimination of reoffending. This study confirmed that assessing dynamic risk factors regularly might help providers adjust the intensity and duration of interventions. The study included a sample of 759 adult male sex offenders enrolled in community treatment in Vermont between 2001 and 2007. These offenders were assessed once using static measures (Static-99R, Static-2002R and VASOR) based on their history. A 22-item dynamic risk measures assessment (Sex Offender Treatment Needs and Progress Scale) was used multiple times to assess participants shortly after their entry into community treatment and about every 6 months after that. Analyses of the dynamic assessment scores resulted in developing a new dynamic risk measure, the Sex Offender Treatment Intervention and Progress Scale (SOTIPS), which was used at 1-year and 3-year follow-up periods.

Read the complete report A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment (pdf, 96 pages)

Forensic Sciences


CODIS STR Template Enrichment by Affinity Bead Capture and Its Application in Forensic DNA Analysis
Authors: Diane J. Rowold, Rachel E. Balsam, and Michael C. Jablecki

This project sought to adapt and explore a front-end treatment of a forensic sample, a DNA sample that is not currently amenable to conventional methods, to improve the chance that such samples could be evaluated with currently validated approaches. Forensic investigations that involve suboptimal DNA samples are often hampered by incomplete or ambiguous Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) STR profiles. This project developed a process that allows for the multiplex capture and PCR amplification of CODIS-specific STR loci. Recovered DNA materials from degraded DNA samples or significantly fragmented DNA samples were assessed by a comparative analysis of the 13 established CODIS STR loci plus the amelogenin and D2S1338 STR loci. Analysis of captured DNA samples did not introduce more artifacts that might complicate CODIS STR analysis.

Read the complete report CODIS STR Template Enrichment by Affinity Bead Capture and Its Application in Forensic DNA Analysis (pdf, 39 pages)

Decrease the Number of Contract Laboratory Cases Awaiting Data Review While Improving DNA Analysis Efficiency
Authors: Vincent J. Anderson and Jeff Thompson

The objectives of this project were to improve DNA analysis efficiency for cases managed by the Los Angeles Police Department and to decrease the number of contract laboratory DNA cases awaiting data review, with a focus on sexual assault cases. As of September 30, 2011, case turnaround time increased from 71 days to 108 days for delivery of the final report, because of older cases in the backlog and a change in reporting dates. The samples per analyst per month increased 82 percent, and the backlog of requests for DNA analysis decreased about 52 percent. LAPD personnel were able to research a method for spermatozoa identification and extraction using Laser Micro dissection. As of September 30, 2011, LAPD has reviewed 2,865 reports from outside vendors under the grant. Those reviews have led to 1,705 cases with at least one CODIS upload and 895 cases with at least one Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hit. This grant stemmed from LAPD’s need to upload subcontractor DNA profiles into the CODIS database in a timely and efficient manner while still allowing time to set up DNA analysis efficiency measures.

Read the complete report Decrease the Number of Contract Laboratory Cases Awaiting Data Review While Improving DNA Analysis Efficiency (pdf, 66 pages)

Development of an Automated System to Detect Spermatozoa on Laboratory Slides to Increase Productivity in the Analysis of Sexual Assault Cases
Authors: Wendy P. Alger, Trisha Conti, and Eric Buel

The goal of this project was to develop an automated system for detecting spermatozoa on laboratory slides to increase productivity in processing evidence in sexual assault cases.

The scanning time for spermatozoa on laboratory slides improved from 2 hours to an average of 20 minutes. The project’s first approach was to use a bright field microscope. The project soon expanded to compare two bright field microscopes to learn which worked better. Researchers also tested using florescent dyes or florescently tagged antibodies specific to human sperm cells for viewing with a florescent microscope. This provided a fast screen of potential sperm cells under florescence with the ability to switch to bright field to identify the sperm. Both automated microscopy systems included a microscope, a stage that held multiple slides, a computer system to process the images, and a screen for viewing the image gallery. The systems could scan using bright field or florescence. The automated bright field microscopes identify the sperm by using a camera to capture the images of each object seen on the slide. The computer processes these images and judges (by the size, shape and color) whether the object is a sperm cell.

Read the complete report Development of an Automated System to Detect Spermatozoa on Laboratory Slides to Increase Productivity in the Analysis of Sexual Assault Cases (pdf, 60 pages)


Development of Linkage Phase Analysis Software for resolving mtDNA Mixtures
Author: Phillip B. Danielson

This project developed and tested software for automating analysis of electrophoretic data necessary to discover the haplotypes of individual contributors to a mtDNA mixture. The software (FLiPARS 2.0) efficiently automates the process of mtDNA mixture deconvolution by linkage phase analysis. The current release of FLiPARS 2.0 has been successfully run on various Windows, Mac OS, and Linux operating systems.

Read the complete report Development of Linkage Phase Analysis Software for Resolving mtDNA Mixtures (pdf, 69 pages)


Establishment of a Fast and Accurate Proteomic Method for Body Fluid/Cell Type Identification
Authors: Mechthild Prinz, Yingying Tang, Donald Siegel, Heyi Yang, Bo Zhou, and Haiteng Deng

The objective of this project was to determine whether a single, confirmatory methodology, using mass spectrometry could be developed for identifying five forensically important body fluids. The fluids are blood, saliva, semen, menstrual blood and vaginal fluid. Researchers identified multiple protein markers for each body fluid. The results of these efforts show the value of mass spectrometry as a routine tool for body fluid identification. Multiple markers were identified for blood, saliva and semen. Detection levels for these three body fluids were in the nanoliter range, which is lower than other methods currently used. Body fluid mixtures could be distinguished, and aging for up to 20 months did not significantly affect sample detection. In addition, preliminary results show that all three body fluids are amenable to high throughput testing. These findings show that mass spectrometry can be used as a single confirmatory body-fluid assay that could replace the current test methods. This would simplify standardization for body fluid testing across laboratories.

Read the complete report Establishment of a Fast and Accurate Proteomic Method for Body Fluid/Cell Type Identification (pdf, 62 pages)


Forensic Stain Identification by RT-PCR Analysis (Updated)
Authors: Trisha Conti and Eric Buel

This report describes the method and findings of a project that developed a RNA/DNA co-isolation technique that extracts both nucleic acids of enough quality and quantity for analyses. The project’s first goal was to identify the best method to co-extract DNA and RNA from various stain types. By using one extraction step, a DNA sample would be ready for STR profiling if the RNA screening assay judged it worthy of such analysis. In addition, getting RNA and DNA from a single stain would present the possibility of drawing conclusions about the identity of one stain that may not hold true for a nearby stain. A diverse sample bank was used to assess the specificity of the candidate tissue-specific genes. Researchers found that DNA and RNA can be co-extracted and the RNA fraction can be used in multiplexed real-time PCR assays.

Read the complete report Forensic Stain Identification By RT-PCR Analysis (Updated) (pdf, 88 pages)

Fundamentals of Forensic Pigment Identification by Raman Microspectroscopy: A Practical Identification Guide and Spectral Library for Forensic Science Laboratories
Authors: Christopher S. Palenik, Skip Palenik, Jennifer Herb, and Ethan Groves

This project conducted basic research in Raman spectroscopy that is needed to begin an evaluation of the potential benefits and evidentiary significance that Raman spectroscopy can provide to the forensic community. Raman scattering uses a laser that is focused on a sample. A small fraction of this energy is scattered by molecules in the sample. As a result, the scattered photons have shifted in energy by an amount characteristic of a particular molecular vibration. The scattered light is collected by an objective (in a microscope system), projected onto a diffraction grating (in a dispersive system), and projected onto an energy-calibrated CCD. The resulting spectrum is measured in wave numbers relative to the energy of the laser. Developing Raman microspectroscopy has opened a new approach in identifying pigments in a consistent and reliable manner. The speed, small sample preparation requirements, and power to identify a wide range of compounds suggest that Raman spectroscopy will gain more and more use in forensic laboratories as applications are developed. This project developed the most thorough spectral pigment database that currently exists. It determined that analyzed pigments were consistent with their labels. Also, it developed an objective quality index for ranking a pigment sample. It also developed a pigment classification scheme that enables interpretation of pigment evidence, and created the current manual for forensic practitioners as a guide for the development and use of Raman spectroscopy as an analytical method in forensic laboratories.

Read the complete report Fundamentals of Forensic Pigment Identification by Raman Microspectroscopy: A Practical Identification Guide and Spectral Library for Forensic Science Laboratoriea (pdf, 572 pages)


An Investigation of the Effect of DNA Degradation and Inhibition on PCR Amplification of Single-Source and Mixed Forensic Samples
Authors: Bruce McCord, Kerry Opel, Maribel Funes, Silvia Zoppis, and Lee Meadows Jantz

This research examined the mechanisms for PCR inhibition and degradation as well as their effects on forensic DNA typing, which could lead to developing more sensitive and robust analytical protocols. Based on the results, the researchers infer that environmental damage to DNA in tissue samples occurs rapidly in reaching the state in which DNA becomes nearly unrecoverable. The template in such samples breaks down to small pieces in as little as three weeks. The effects of oxidative damage on such samples, however, were slight. No oxidation of DNA bases was found for environmentally degraded DNA, although it was present in saliva samples.

Read the complete report An Investigation of the Effect of DNA Degradation and Inhibition on PCR Amplification of Single-Source and Mixed Forensic Samples (pdf, 66 pages)


Isolation of Highly Specific Protein Markers for the Identification of Biological Stains: Adapting Comparative Proteomics to Forensics
Author: Phillip B. Danielson

This study compared the proteomic profiles (proteins present in a substance) of six body fluids of particular value to the forensic community. The goal was to identify a panel of high-specificity candidate protein biomarkers for individual body fluids. Although DNA profiling allows biological stains to be individualized, the unambiguous identification of the stain itself can present forensic serologists with a significant challenge. For example, there is no reliable test for vaginal secretions, and tests for blood cannot distinguish peripheral from menstrual blood. Such information can be important to an investigation. A comprehensive panel of candidate biomarkers was produced and characterized by mass spectrometry. Confirming the specificity of these candidate biomarkers in a larger population group, and using forensic casework samples will be the next steps in developing a practitioners-ready high-specificity test for biological stain identification.

Read the complete report Isolation of Highly Specific Protein Markers for the Identification of Biological Stains: Adapting Comparative Proteomics to Forensics (pdf, 38 pages)


MicroCantilever (MC)-based Robust Sensing Approach for Controlled Substances
Authors: George Kraus, Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, Pranav Shrotriya, Kyungho Kang, Aaron Kempema, and Ashish Sachan

This research report introduced the use of MicroCantilever-based sensors for forensic detection and identification of controlled substances, toxic species, biological molecules and DNA matching. Current sensor systems require extensive sample preparation or specialized instrumentation to identify molecules of controlled substances (such as cocaine) with high specificity and sensitivity. The researchers sought to overcome the limits of current sensor systems by developing a novel sensing approach based on MicroCantilever sensors. To show the feasibility and forensic relevance of their approach, the authors developed sensors for sensitive and specific identification of cocaine, cocaine metabolites, and methamphetamine and metabolites.

Read the complete report MicroCantilever (MC)-based Robust Sensing Approach for Controlled Substances (pdf, 65 pages)

Population Genetics of SNPs for Forensic Purposes (Updated)
Author: Kenneth K. Kidd

The goals of this project were to improve two preliminary panels of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. These includeSNPs with globally low Fst and high average heterozygosity for use in individual identification and SNPs with globally high Fst and at least moderate average heterozygosity for use in ancestry inference. The first panel would provide exclusion probabilities or match probabilities for individual identification with especially low dependence on ancestry. The second panel would provide accurate specificity of biological ancestry for forensic investigation. The researchers identified a sufficient number of SNPs for individual identification (IISNPs) using their unique collection of cell lines on population samples from around the world. The researchers identified and published a panel of 92 best SNPs studied on 44 population samples. These SNPs have both low Fst (less than 0.06) and high heterozygosity (greater than 0.4). Of these, 45 SNPs have no genetic linkage and yield average match probabilities of less than 10 to the -17 power in most of the 44 populations and less than 10 to the -15 power in all. The researchers consider the IISNP panel to be final and have made public the list of IISNPs.

Read the complete report Population Genetics of SNPs for Forensic Purposes (Updated) (pdf, 103 pages)


Synthesis and Analytical Profiles for Regioisomeric and Isobaric Amines Related to MDMA, MDEA and MBDB: Differentiation of Drug and Non-Drug Substances of Mass Spectral Equivalence
Author: C. Randall Clark

The broad goal of this research was to improve specificity in the analytical methods used to identify MDMA, MBDB, MDEA and related phenethylamine controlled substances. This project has developed methods for discriminating between the drugs and those regioisomeric and isobaric molecules that have the same molecular weight and major fragments of equivalent mass (i.e., identical mass spectra). The project stressed the analytical methods commonly used in forensic laboratories for confirmation of drug identity: gas chromatography (GC), mass spectrometry (MS), and infrared spectrometry. When there are compounds that produce the same mass spectrum as the drug of interest, the identification by GC-MS must be based on the ability of the chromatographic system to resolve these substances. The first phase of this work involved the organic synthesis of the direct regioisomeric substances related to MDMA, MBDB and MDEA. Also prepared were representative samples of the indirect regioisomeric molecules and the isobaric substances, compounds of the same nominal mass but with a different elemental composition. Additional compounds were prepared in related categories to further refine the developed analytical methods. Overall, just over 90 phenethylamines having a regioisomeric or isobaric relationship to MDMA or MBDB have been synthesized and evaluated. The chromatographic retention properties for each series of isomers have been evaluated by GC techniques on various stationary phases, synthesized, and evaluated. These studies established a structure-retention relationship (elution orders) for the side chain regioisomers and the isobaric amines on several stationary phases.

Read the complete report Synthesis and Analytical Profiles for Regioisomeric and Isobaric Amines Related to MDMA, MDEA and MBDB: Differentiation of Drug and Non-Drug Substances of Mass Spectral Equivalence (pdf, 301 pages)

Violence


Shifting Boundaries: Final Report on an Experimental Evaluation of a Youth Dating Violence Prevention Program in New York City Middle Schools
Authors: Bruce Taylor, Nan D. Stein, Dan Woods, and Elizabeth Mumford

This experiment assessed the effectiveness of targeting a young audience with classroom-based curriculums and school-level interventions. The authors randomly assigned school-based interventions to 30 public middle schools in New York City and identified 117 sixth and seventh grade classes at random to receive added classroom interventions. The classroom intervention was a six-session curriculum that stressed the effects of dating violence and harassment, laws and penalties, gender roles and healthy relationships. The building-based intervention included the use of temporary school-based restraining orders. It also featured higher levels of faculty and security presence in areas identified through student mapping of unsafe “hot spots,” and the use of posters to increase awareness and reporting to school personnel. Quantitative surveys were completed at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and six months post-intervention. They included measures of knowledge, attitudes, behavioral aims, willingness to intervene as a bystander, peer and dating partner physical and sexual violence, sexual harassment and other background items. Qualitative focus groups were conducted with interventionists and students to provide context to assess intervention implementation and student change associated with the interventions. The combined classroom and building interventions, and the “building only” intervention, led to 32-47 percent lower peer sexual violence victimization and perpetration up to six months after the intervention. The success of the building only intervention is important because it can be completed in schools with small added costs.

Read the complete report Shifting Boundaries: Final Report on an Experimental Evaluation of a Youth Dating Violence Prevention Program in New York City Middle Schools (pdf, 322 pages).


Date Created: July 9, 2012