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Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

NSF REU Site: Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in the study of Disparities in the Criminal Justice System (DCJS) is a 10-week summer program that engages 9 selected undergraduate students with faculty and graduate students from the department  in research addressing the role of race/ethncity, class, and gender in explaining criminal behavior and understanding criminal justice practices. The DCJS-REU site is funded by the National Science Foundation with a goal of advancing undergraduate student interest in research (Award #: 1851955). The program aims to introduce students to the prospect of graduate school and foster evidence-based practices among the next generation of academics, lawyers, policymakers, and practitioners within criminal justice.

The application for summer 2022 is now closed. After the selection committee reviews the applications, finalists will be contacted for a Zoom or phone interview.

The main objectives of the DCJS-REU site are to provide program participants with opportunities to ask compelling research questions and recognize how studies can inform our understanding of crime and criminal justice polices. We seek to achieve this objective by

  • Exposing students to the research process through mentoring from faculty and graduate students
  • Providing first-hand experiences in conducting research
  • Offering students opportunities to learn how to disseminate research findings, including involvement in an undergraduate research symposium and work on a publishable paper
  • Enhancing learning and skill development through discipline-specific training, university workshops, and interactions with criminal justice professionals
  • Focusing on participation from underrepresented students, including racial/ethnic minorities, women, and first-generation college students
  • Preparing students to apply and attend graduate programs or work in the field of criminology/criminal justice or related fields

Those selected for the program will serve as junior researchers on one of three research teams. They will also participate in enrichment activities and workshops to supplement the research experience, including opportunities to interact with criminal justice professionals and researchers, as well as GRE preparation. Students will engage in several social and cultural activities (e.g., lunches hosted by the department, recreational trips, concluding ceremony).

Each student will receive a stipend of $500 per week (for at total of $5,000) plus money for travel ($500) and meals ($1,000). We will also provide on-campus housing for the duration of the program.

There are a total of three research teams, with 3 students selected to serve on each team.

Domestic Violence Case Processing Pipeline Study

From 2003 to 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey reported that domestic violence accounted for about 21% of all violent victimizations, including intimate partner violence (15%), violence committed by immediate family members (4%), and violence committed by other relatives (2%). While these estimates likely underreport the reality, studies continue to identify an increase in domestic violence cases processed in the criminal justice system. Coinciding with this influx of domestic violence cases is a growing interest in studies pertaining to prosecutorial decision-making and discretion. Prosecutorial decision-making has not been given the same level of scrutiny as judicial sentencing decisions, and even when including judges and defense attorneys in the discussion, the factors that influence decision-making in the earlier phases of case processing, as opposed to sentencing, are not well understood. As part of a larger study examining the case processing pipeline of domestic violence cases from the 14th Circuit in South Carolina, participants will examine factors that describe and impact case processing while conducting a content analysis of case documents including police reports, victim impact statements, prosecutor notes, or prosecutorial case summaries.

The faculty mentor for this project is Dr. Barbara Koons-Witt.

Race and Victim-Offender Relationship Among Death Row Defendants

There is a significant body of research that suggests that the victim-offender relationship plays a factor in the death penalty. Importantly, this research suggests that we are more likely to see “stranger-based” victim-offender relationships over-represented among death row defendants. This project will examine the issue of race and the victim-offender relationship within a population of death row defendants. Students will collect data on death row defendants using case files and court decisions from the state Supreme Court. This data will be used to identify patterns in the victim-offender relationship including race and gender

The faculty mentor for this project is Dr. John Burrow.

Criminal Court Case Processing of American School Shooters

Although research on the correlates of school shootings has increased in recent years, we know less about the criminal court system's processing of adolescent school shooters. For instance, few studies have examined prosecutors' decisions to charge school shooters, including trying them in adult versus juvenile court, and fewer still have investigated variations in their sentences. One crucial shortcoming to the limited existing research is the role of extra-legal factors – such as the shooter's race and ethnicity – in shaping such processes. In this project, students will develop a novel dataset based on The American School Shooting Study (TASSS) to overcome the limitations of prior research. They will read TASSS's case files on adolescent school shooters to codify information about prosecutor's charging decisions, where defendants were charged and adjudicated, and defendants who pled or were found guilty and sentenced. Students will also collect data about shooters' background and demographic characteristics and the elements of the school shooting offense. In the end, each student's involvement in this project will be essential in improving systematic knowledge of the factors influencing prosecutorial decision-making and sentencing outcomes for school shooters in America.

The faculty mentor for this project is Dr. Brent Klein.

Prospective sophomores and juniors from around the U.S. are encouraged to apply, although all students who will still be enrolled in their undergraduate institution in the fall of 2022 are eligible to apply and will be considered. We are particularly committed to expanding the participation of groups underrepresented within criminology and criminal justice graduate programs, including racial/ethnic minorities, women, and first-generation college students.

Applicants must be

  • Undergraduate students in good standing
  • Enrolled as undergraduate students at their home institution in the spring and fall of 2022 (i.e., students graduating before December 2022 are not eligible)
  • U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States
  • Willing to relocate to Columbia, South Carolina for the full 10 weeks

Student participants will be required to fully participate in all aspects and activities of the program.

In order to apply,

  • Complete and submit the application (the application for summer 2022 is closed).
  • Notify two people of your choosing to write letters of recommendation (you will be asked to provide their names and emails in the application and separate emails will be sent directly to them with a form to upload their letters).

After the selection committee reviews the applications, finalists will be contacted for a phone or Zoom interview.

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