Research Report Digest, Issue 4

January 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 April-June 2011.

Find research reports related to:


Final Report on the Evaluation of the SAGE Project’s LIFESKILLS and GRACE Programs
Authors: Marcia I. Cohen, Mark C. Edberg, and Stephen V. Gies

The SAGE Project is a nonprofit organization that operates two commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) intervention programs — LIFESKILLS and GRACE. Both programs operate from the philosophical approach of harm reduction, which emphasizes peer education and skills development. Participants in LIFESKILLS are younger (under age 18) and are either involved in CSE or are considered at high risk for sexual exploitation. GRACE participants are older (adults) and have been arrested for prostitution. Most GRACE program clients are court-ordered to participate for a minimum of 25 hours of group services. Findings show the following: the SAGE Project succeeded in reducing contact with the criminal justice system for both the LIFESKILLS and GRACE groups; girls and young women typically track along one of four risk-related trajectories; and, although a LIFESKILLS curriculum with a good theoretical foundation exists, fidelity to a model is lacking, and it has not been sufficiently formalized, operationalized, and documented.

Read the complete report Final Report on the Evaluation of the SAGE Project’s LIFESKILLS and GRACE Programs (pdf, 371 pages)

People with Dementia as Witnesses to Emotional Events
Authors: Aileen Wiglesworth and Laura Mosqueda

In order to determine whether people with dementia (ages 55 and older) can provide reliable evidence as witnesses to emotional events, this study conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 95 people with dementia and a control group of 50 older adults, eliciting memories of recent autobiographical events with both positive and negative emotional content. The study determined that a significant subset of older adults with dementia illnesses can reliably report on emotional events that have happened to them. Compared to people with dementia who have less reliable emotional memory, these individuals were able to report details of the event accurately and to recall the same event with the same accuracy after a short time delay. This subset of the dementia sample are likely to be in an earlier stage of the disease, to be more aware of their own cognitive impairment, to be more likely to report negative events in their lives, and to be able to recall an event without cues. These findings suggest that older adults with dementia who are crime victims should be evaluated for their ability to remember emotional events in which they have been involved. If the evaluation shows the capacity to remember autobiographical emotional events, the individual should be allowed to provide testimony about the criminal events.

Read the complete report People with Dementia as Witnesses to Emotional Events (pdf, 30 pages)

Sex Trafficking in a Border Community: A Field Study of Sex Trafficking in Tijuana, Mexico
Author: Sheldon Zhang

This study examines human trafficking and the commercialized sex industry in Tijuana, Mexico. The study used in-depth interviews with semistructured and open-ended questions, field observations, and conversations with those who are involved in the prostitution business, law enforcement, and advocacy groups. The data include interviews with 220 women from the sex industry, 92 sex trade facilitators, 30 government/law enforcement officials and 20 community-based service providers. The study found that women from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds entered into commercial sex. The vast majority of the women interviewed chose prostitution as a means to achieve personal and familial financial ends. The sex trade facilitators either relied on existing businesses in the red light district or initiated their own entrance into the sex trade.

Law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border expressed concern about sex trafficking, and the majority of these officials believed that current anti-trafficking campaigns can be improved in the following five areas. First, the governments of the United States and Mexico need to focus on disruption-oriented law enforcement policies and strategies that seek out individual entrepreneurs who engage in sex trafficking activities. Second, to increase the cost of doing business for these entrepreneurs, legislative changes are needed that specifically target the final outcome of human trafficking, i.e., asset forfeiture. Third, significant resources and efforts are needed for bilateral collaborations to educate and train law enforcement agencies as well as medical and social service providers on how to recognize and respond to sex trafficking activities and victims. Fourth, one of the most effective ways to reduce sex trafficking might be through a public awareness campaign — flyers, billboards, and radio/TV announcements. Fifth, a major anti-trafficking strategy missing from the current movement is the lack of political will and resource allocations to secure and offer long-term solutions that can persuade women to exit the sex trade.

Read the complete report Sex Trafficking in a Border Community: A Field Study of Sex Trafficking in Tijuana, Mexico (pdf, 164 pages)

Where Political Extremists and Greedy Criminals Meet: A Comparative Study of Financial Crimes and Criminal Networks in the United States
Author: Roberta Belli

The author of this dissertation conducted a systematic study of financial crime cases involving Islamic extremists, domestic far-rightists, and their nonextremist accomplices who were prosecuted by federal courts in 2004. A descriptive analysis was conducted; it compared schemes, crimes, and techniques used by far-rightists, Islamic extremists, and nonextremists before moving into an in-depth social network analysis of their relational ties in co-offending, business, and family networks. The descriptive findings revealed considerable differences in the modus operandi followed by far-rightists and Islamic extremists as well as the prosecutorial strategies used against them. The subsequent exploratory and statistical network analyses, however, revealed interesting similarities, suggesting that financial schemes by political extremists occurred within similarly decentralized, self-organizing structures that facilitated exchanges between individuals acting within close-knit subsets regardless of their ideological affiliation.

Read the complete report Where Political Extremists and Greedy Criminals Meet: A Comparative Study of Financial Crimes and Criminal Networks in the United States (pdf, 464 pages)


Adolescent Sexual Assault Victims' Experiences with SANE-SARTs and the Criminal Justice System
Authors: Rebecca Campbell, Megan Greeson, Deborah I. Bybee, Angie Kennedy, and Debra Patterson

The purpose of this project was to examine adolescent sexual assault survivors’ help-seeking experiences with the legal and medical systems in two Midwestern communities that have different models of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)/Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) interventions. Rather than focusing on any one stage, the researchers assessed progress through this system as an ordinal variable in order to capture incremental change. They examined how differences between the two SANE-SART models — and the evolution of these models over time — predicted prosecution outcomes relative to the predictive utility of victim characteristics, assault characteristics, and medical forensic evidence findings. With respect to site differences, there were no significant main effect differences between the two SANE-SART programs studied, suggesting that one model of SANE-SART intervention was no more or less effective than the other with respect to achieving prosecution success.

Read the complete report Adolescent Sexual Assault Victims’ Experiences with SANE-SARTs and the Criminal Justice System (pdf, 164 pages)

Mental Health and Violent Offending in Chicago Youth: A Multilevel Approach
Authors: Denise Paquette Boots and Jennifer Wareham

This report explores the early identification of mental illness in youth as an important goal for researchers who are interested in determining if a causal relationship exists between various forms of mental disorder and offending. The study examines the role of various mental health problems on self-reported violence among the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods across age cohorts while controlling for various community-, friend-, familial-, and individual-level risk factors that may also influence violence pathways. Results from the multilevel analyses suggest that a continuity of oppositional defiant and antisocial personality problems over the life-course may predict violence. The implications of these findings are offered as they relate to public policy, treatment, and future research efforts. Consideration of mental health problems is also of great importance to practitioners in criminal justice who treat youth presenting with co-morbid mental and behavioral issues. Building on preliminary work, the study uses gender- and age-appropriate continuous indicators of psychopathology to explore the link between child and adolescent mental health and youth violence.

Read the complete report Mental Health and Violent Offending in Chicago Youth: A Multilevel Approach (pdf, 124 pages)

The Structural and Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Violence
Authors: David S. Kirk and Andrew V. Papachristos

The purpose of this study was to inject a cultural dimension into neighborhood effects research and, in the process, provide an explanation for the paradoxical co-existence of law-abiding beliefs and law-violating behavior that characterizes many disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. This study explores the origins of “legal cynicism” and its consequences for neighborhood violence. Legal cynicism refers to a cultural framework in which people perceive the “law” as illegitimate, unresponsive, and ill equipped to ensure public safety. To achieve the research objectives, the authors performed a series of analyses on a merged data repository that included the following datasets: (1) the 1994-1995 Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods Community Survey, (2) the U.S. Census, and (3) 1991-2002 homicide data obtained from the Chicago Police Department. Findings from this study reveal that tolerant attitudes toward deviance and violence have little bearing on neighborhood rates of violence. Findings also indicate that cynicism of the law has a general effect on violence, and that collective efficacy substantially mediates the association between legal cynicism and homicide. Legal cynicism undermines the collective efficacy that is vital to the social control of neighborhood violence.

Read the complete report The Structural and Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Violence (pdf, 91 pages)

Theoretical Model Development in Elder Mistreatment
Authors: Kerry Burnight and Laura Mosqueda

This research report focuses on developing a theoretical model for elder mistreatment, a relatively new family violence-related issue that lacks empirically based knowledge and a theoretical framework within which to understand its multiple manifestations. Effective intervention and prevention strategies depend on theory-driven hypotheses testing in order to understand how risk factors at various social-ecological levels interact in the etiology of elder mistreatment. To foster theoretical model development, this report takes an inventory of the empirically derived knowledge on elder mistreatment, reviews the major theoretical approaches to the etiology of elder mistreatment, and proposes a new model of elder mistreatment of older adults with cognitive impairment. Each component of the work was heavily informed by the methods and models from the adjacent areas of inquiry — child maltreatment and intimate partner violence. Information was obtained through an extensive literature review of the criminal justice, psychology, sociology, gerontology, forensics and public health literature as well as from interviews with experts from the elder mistreatment, child maltreatment, and intimate partner violence fields.

Read the complete report Theoretical Model Development in Elder Mistreatment (pdf, 36 pages)

Forensic Sciences

Development of an Integrated Workflow from Laboratory Processing to Report Generation for mtDNA Haplotype Analysis
Authors: Rhonda K. Roby, Nicole R. Phillips, Jennifer L. Thomas, Marc Sprouse, and Pam Curtis

The objective of this project was to develop an integrated workflow from laboratory processing to data management for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence data. mtDNA analysis is an invaluable tool for victim identification from mass disasters and missing persons programs to criminal casework. The University of North Texas Health Science Center uses advanced DNA technologies to process unidentified human remains and the family reference samples from biological relatives for both nuclear DNA (nDNA) and mtDNA. Since most missing persons cases rely heavily on mtDNA testing of skeletal remains, mtDNA testing of reference samples is necessary for making family associations. The resulting DNA profiles are uploaded to the Missing Persons Index database. In this database, mtDNA and nDNA profiles from the unidentified remains can be searched against the biological family reference profiles and associations are recommended through kinship analysis testing.

Read the complete report Development of an Integrated Workflow from Laboratory Processing to Report Generation for mtDNA Haplotype Analysis (pdf, 145 pages)

Streamlining the DNA Process through Implementation of Automation and Information Technologies
Author: Sara Hochendoner

In this study, the Allegheny County (Pa.) Office of the Medical Examiner Forensic Laboratory proposed to improve the major bottlenecks identified within the current forensic biology scheme. The goal of the research was to reduce turnaround time for cases, improve efficiency through the implementation of automation and information technology systems, and provide an optimized processing model for small DNA casework laboratories. The areas of the analysis process that required increased efficiency included manual microscopic examinations for the presence of spermatozoa, manual sample manipulation in DNA processing, data transfer, and profile interpretation. The study showed that the efficiency of the transfer and analysis of data was improved using information technology resources, a network of instrument and data analysis computers, and a dedicated DNA Laboratory Information Management System for the purpose of information and sample tracking through analysis in the DNA section.

Read the complete report Streamlining the DNA Process through Implementation of Automation and Information Technologies (pdf, 269 pages)

Law Enforcement

Evaluation of Reflective Vest Options
Authors: Aaron Nisenson, Bruce Kubu, and Ashley Carney

This report summarizes the findings of a survey designed to obtain information from police officers about their need for visibility in certain tactical situations, the amount of training they have received in the use of reflective vests and safety gear, the agency policy governing vest usage, and the officers’ experience and perceptions in the use of reflective vests. The survey participants were street-level officers who would be expected to wear reflective vests. The five agencies that were selected included a medium-sized urban police department on the west coast, a large state patrol division in the Midwest, a medium-sized suburban police department in the northeast, a small rural and suburban police department in the southeast, and a large metropolitan police department in the southwest. All eligible officers in four of the departments were part of the sample. In one large department, a convenience sample was used.

The survey found significant consensus among the respondents regarding the need for high visibility while directing traffic, assisting motorists, stabilizing an accident scene, taking down an accident scene, and conducting roadblocks. There was no consensus among the respondents about the need for high visibility in other tactical situations, such as during routine patrol or while conducting traffic stops. There was significant disagreement among respondents about certain aspects of vest usage, which may reflect geographic and demographic differences among the departments represented. The confusion regarding the requirements for when vests should be worn points to a need for further education of departments and officers. It was recommended that NIJ or another authoritative source should consider developing guidelines for law enforcement agencies in implementing the regulations, particularly since the scope of the regulations is currently being expanded. In addition, training in the requirements of the regulations and the use of the reflective vests is inconsistent from one agency to another, suggesting the need for a training module or sample training material for the use of reflective vests.

Read the complete report Evaluation of Reflective Vest Options (pdf, 103 pages)


Incarcerated Women, Their Children, and the Nexus with Foster Care
Authors: Susan George, Roland Holst, Haeil Jung, Robert LaLonde, and Rekha Varghese

This report examined the problem of incarcerated women and their children along with their experiences with the foster care system in Illinois. The report presents the results of a project that merged administrative databases from different state agencies in Illinois into one large database that would provide a more complete picture of the incarceration, employment, social, and child welfare histories of women and their children. After matching corrections data on female offenders from Illinois to the state’s child welfare records, the researchers examined the incidence of childhood foster care spells among incarcerated women, the incidence of female prisoners having their own children in foster care, and how time in prison or jail is associated with different foster care outcomes, such as the loss of parental rights. The study found that 75 percent of children in foster care had been there for more than a year prior to their mother’s first prison stay, reunification is unlikely if the child’s foster care overlaps with the mother’s time in prison, the labor market outcomes of incarcerated mothers whose children spend time in foster care are worse than those for other incarcerated women both before and after prison, and time served in prison is not strongly associated with reunification rates.

Read the complete report Incarcerated Women, Their Children, and the Nexus with Foster Care (pdf, 146 pages)


Reducing Courts’ Failure to Appear Rate: A Procedural Justice Approach
Authors: Brian H. Bornstein, Alan J. Tomkins, and Elizabeth M. Neeley

This paper examines the effectiveness of using different kinds of written reminders to reduce misdemeanants’ failure-to-appear (FTA) rates. Misdemeanants in 14 Nebraska counties were randomly assigned to one of four conditions prior to their court date: no reminder (control), reminder-only, reminder with information on the negative consequences of FTA (reminder-sanctions), or reminder with information on sanctions as well as the procedural justice benefits of appearing (reminder-combined). A subset of individuals was surveyed after their scheduled court date to assess their perceptions of procedural fairness and their level of trust/confidence in the courts. Survey results indicated that misdemeanants’ trust/confidence assessments, as well as their perceptions of procedural justice, were related to their appearance in court. Defendants who appeared in court had higher institutional confidence and felt they had been treated more fairly by the criminal justice system than nonappearers. Institutional confidence and procedural justice were also highly correlated. Defendants with low trust in the courts were less likely to appear than those with higher trust when there was no reminder, but this relationship was not statistically significant when there was a reminder.

Read the complete report Reducing Courts' Failure to Appear Rate: A Procedural Justice Approach (pdf, 62 pages)

Date Created: January 20, 2012