Journey of a Bullet
June 20, 2017

The problem of rising gun violence is sometimes difficult to discuss in this country. Guns are baked into the DNA of the United States. It is part of our ethos and mythology, and comprises the most complicated part of our self-analysis.

The gun is responsible for our forefathers securing our nation's freedom; it "tamed the West," making it possible for us to fulfill our manifest destiny; it was used in war to push back the march of tyrants that would have changed the face of the world. More recently however, gun violence has terrorized inner city neighborhoods and has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in modern history. As a society we debate gun violence, but often ignore the costs to public health.

"Nationally there are over twice as many people who are shot and live than die," says Dr. Shila Hawk, a policy expert at Applied Research Services in Atlanta. "The social and fiscal costs related to that trauma not only negatively affect public health, but are also related to an increased risk of both firearm re-victimization and future arrest."

Read now
“Journey of a Bullet: Stories of Gunshot Victims”


NBC News presents a story that allows us to see the real toll taken on six shooting victims by listening to each of their personal stories. Freed from the rhetoric of politics, gun violence is confronted on a human scale and we see the physical and emotional scars that a bullet delivers. By seeing the damage through the eyes of real people, hearing their personal stories of loss and struggle, the issue becomes personal. Dr. Hawk believes that understanding the grave nature of the problem on a micro level is driving a search for solutions. "Collaboration among public health officials - clinicians, justice workers, researchers - has been an effective approach to combating gun violence."

Crime in general has declined in the city of Atlanta over the past decade, but the share of crime related to gun violence has increased abruptly. In response, Applied Research Services, the Atlanta Police Department and Grady Memorial Hospital, home of the area's premiere Level-1 Trauma Center, are collaborating on a new Smart Policing project funded by the Department of Justice. The Program to Interrupt Violence thru Outreach and Treatment (PIVOT) is an unprecedented evidence-based and data-driven initiative focused on reducing gun violence by preventing repeat victimization/hospitalization and retaliatory incidents.

The way of the gun may have been the past in this country, but through the combined efforts of public heath officials and law enforcement, we can reduce gun violence and preserve our future.



SPOTLIGHT ON ARS: RESEARCH IN THE REAL WORLD
March 22, 2017

Parole decisions are not made on a whim. Ideally, successfully reintegrating a parolee into society while keeping the safety of the public top of mind and overall program costs low is the goal. However, achieving that ideal can be difficult; a number of factors enter into those decisions and risk assessment is vital.

Recently, Dr. Tammy Meredith of Applied Research Services in Atlanta, Georgia, was called upon to join forces with several other agencies, including the Rhode Island Parole Board, The Center for Effective Public Policy, and The Bureau of Justice Assistance to work with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections in a massive study of its parole program’s risk assessment tools.

Read now
“Rhode Island Parole Board Study Spotlight Article” at BJA National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) (www.bjatraining.org)


With the combined efforts of all the teams, they were able to study the effects of parolee recidivism, improve the risk assessment tools used to determine parole eligibility and successfully use the findings to both streamline and strengthen the decisionmaking processes of the parole board. Adopting the proposed changes, the Rhode Island Parole Board will be able to make even more informed parole decisions that they hope will drastically impact the percentage of successful parolee reintegrations going forward.



The Plan to Test Cities’ Sewage for Drugs Is a New Form of Mass Surveillance
January 23, 2017

Technological advances can revolutionize whole industries. But progress often comes with the baggage of ethical questions about how we're going to use new processes and who will benefit or suffer by them. In an article on vice.com, author Troy Farah examines both sides of the issue in his discussion of new research that uses technology to test municipal wastewater for evidence of illegal and prescription drug abuse among the population.

Read now
"The Plan to Test Cities’ Sewage for Drugs Is a New Form of Mass Surveillance"


Water treatment plants only remove around 50% of the trace pharmaceuticals carried by human waste. Researchers have been able to take advantage of this and use mass spectrometry to test samples of waste water, tracking the ebb and flow among populations of levels of illegal substances such as meth, cocaine, and heroin. While testing of this nature is on the rise in Europe and Asia, so far in the United States there have only been a handful of these tests conducted, most notably in an effort by the federal government to monitor waste water in the Washington area; the information gathered provides insight about the levels of cannabis use before and after legalization in that state.

As the accuracy of testing improves, Farah notes that the research gathered can be quite valuable in terms of tracking the rise and fall of drug use among populations. The data collected from such testing could be invaluable to researchers who work in a field that often has to rely on questionnaires as a common, but not necessarily infallible research tool, resting as they do on the complete frankness of the survey participant. In addition, wastewater testing can assist law enforcement in tracking the inception and spread of new drugs that street trade might introduce. However, the author also expresses doubts about the way in which the research might be used by law enforcement, especially in light of the harshly penalizing 'War on Drugs' that has notoriously decimated many low-income communities across the United States.

Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services, Atlanta Georgia tends to agree. "While wastewater testing may lead to better surveillance regarding the current and emerging views of drugs, there are some privacy concerns that are worth exploring. As is so often the case, we are faced with the choice that involves a potential increase in public safety at the potential cost of some measure of privacy."



Modern Police Reform - A View From The Inside
September 16, 2016

As the roster of hashtagged names grew longer in the last year, the idea of police reform grew larger in the national conversation. There is a decided bone of contention being tugged back and forth between activists who have a genuine concern over what appears to be a deeply ingrained bully culture in law enforcement and activists who have a genuine concern that our security is being compromised by overzealous police scrutiny and lack of public support for our men and women in blue. However, a recent New York Times op-ed piece introduces an idea that may be the bridge that draws these opposing camps together: a reform model with neighborhood policing at its heart.

Read New York Times
"William J. Bratton: How to Reform Policing From Within"


Famed law enforcement officer William J. Bratton, who has lead with distinction in difficult law enforcement environments across the nation from Boston to Los Angeles to New York City, offers a vision for national police reform that centers on reshaping the profession from within. Dr. Shila Hawk, a researcher for Applied Research Services, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia found much in Bratton’s words that offered “useful insights for shaping several aspects of police culture.”

In his article, Bratton outlines ways in which changes to the way both rookie and veteran officers are trained, managed and disciplined will have significant impact."There are police reformers from outside the profession who think that changing police culture is a matter of passing regulations, establishing oversight bodies and more or less legislating a new order,” he says. “It is not. Such oversight usually has only marginal impact. What changes police culture is leadership from within.”

Bratton also notes that a change to the patrol model is key to reform. By moving to a neighborhood-based policing program that anchors officers in the community, the opportunity is created for officers to work more closely with the members of that area, solving problems instead of merely reacting to them in the moment of crisis. “By localizing police service, we are breaking down barriers and building trust with truly productive partnerships,” says Bratton.

In addition, Bratton calls for improvements in working conditions and equipment. “You have to show [law enforcement officers] that you care about them, their safety, job satisfaction and careers.” Hawk concurs, citing her agency’s work with law enforcement as evidence. “Research supports the argument that focusing on legitimacy and job satisfaction is significant to the function of the police. With these goals in mind local agency leaders and ARS worker together to continuously evolve responses that meet the needs of our ever changing society.”



OXYCONTIN’S 12-HOUR PROBLEM
MAY 5, 2016

In the eyes of many, illegal drugs in the United States are a most pressing problem. In 2014 alone there were over 1.5 million arrests for drug law violations nationally, and we typically imagine these offenders as presented in gritty films and TV shows - hardened street criminals pushing hard drugs made in back alleys and rural trailer parks, patronized by the seedy underbelly of the community. But reality paints a different picture, and a recent article in the L.A. Times investigates an underconsidered branch of the national drug discussion. The path to serious addiction can often start with a perfectly legal drug, prescribed by physicians and used to alleviate suffering. Oxycontin is the central example of this problem.

Read Los Angeles Times
“‘YOU WANT A DESCRIPTION OF HELL?’ OXYCONTIN’S 12-HOUR PROBLEM” by Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion and Scott Glover


However, as the article delves deeper, we see that what we generally see framed by the media as criminal abuse by users, is not the whole picture. In the case of Oxycontin, the reporters shine a light on the misuse of the drug that stems from a drive by the drug’s own maker to increase profits and maintain market share. By denying the failure of the drug to work as prescribed, the company sets up a system designed to fail some patients and which can have serious consequences for them both legally and physically.

Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services in Atlanta, Georgia is unsurprised by the findings in the L.A. Times’ investigation. “As noted in our report on heroin in north Fulton County click here, for many heroin addicts their route to heroin addiction went through opioid pain relievers (OPRs). This story details what many regard as the origin of our recent epidemic of opioid pain reliever abuse.”



An unprecedented experiment in mass forgiveness
March 29, 2016

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, California is at the forefront of a wave of new policies that seek to revise some of the harshest laws and statutes from past decades that offered draconian punishments for all offenders. The result is fewer people being sent to prison, and tens of thousands of inmates being released. Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services in Atlanta, Georgia, sees this interesting development as “ a great opportunity for a natural experiment in five to ten years as to the role this ‘forgiveness’ or ‘cleansing’ plays in the lives of those released and in longer-term crime trends.”

Read The Washington Post
“An unprecedented experiment in mass forgiveness” by Rob Kuznia


On the whole, the judicial trend is moving toward finding less punitive means of maintaining law and order. While the measures they are taking—everything from increased use of drug courts to more parole for inmates who have demonstrated reform—represent a swing towards a more rehabilitative focus, at a practical level the California prison system is also seeking to simply reduce the numbers of prisoners incarcerated. At its peak in 2006, the system was filled to nearly 200 percent of its design capacity, overcrowding that was ruled cruel and unusual punishment in 2011.

However, detractors of the program are deeply concerned. Small, but noticeable upticks in crime are occurring in many of California’s cities, and victim advocacy groups and conservatives are placing the blame on the new reforms. Many cite recidivism statistics that point to the futility and danger of releasing criminals who are hardened by the systems upon an unsuspecting public. However, proponents of the program are optimistic about the long-term effects of this “experiment in forgiveness” especially with support programs and other measures put in place that will ease a prisoner’s transition back into the world. The article notes anecdotal evidence of several former inmates who are making a great success of their second chance.



Gleaning Wisdom From the “Silk Road”
February 29, 2016

From 2011 until 2013, an underground Web system called Silk Road flourished as a site for the trafficking of illegal drugs, goods and services, with a shadowy figure known as the Dread Pirate Roberts at its helm. A fascinating recent article in Wired magazine chronicles the massive multi-agency investigation that took place to track, identify and arrest the Dread Pirate Roberts, later identified as Ross William Ulbricht, and shut down his criminal organization.

Read Wired Magazine:
The Untold Story of SIlk Road - The Rise & The Fall


As Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services in Atlanta, Ga., notes, the saga of dismantling of Silk Road contains themes that are seen time and again in law enforcement. “The story touches on a number of areas of relevance - technology, drugs, libertarianism, how personal ideals are ultimately open to compromise, and of course criminal enterprise. The creativity and collaborative/competitive efforts of the investigators from so many agencies also speaks to law enforcement challenges in the current age.”

Among those challenges, we find fascinating parallels and paradoxes that contain both triumph and warnings for law enforcement professionals. While Silk Road was founded upon technology that cloaked the entire operation and initially hampered investigation, agents were eventually able to use that same web of anonymity to create an inroad used to infiltrate the operation. Cooperation among agencies was essential to collecting information and building the case, but inter-agency competition and lapses in communication often left crucial details on the table. (An article in the New York Times related to the case makes it clear that there were definitely missed opportunities that may have cracked the Dread Pirate Roberts identity sooner than it came.)

But most importantly, the article is a cautionary tale about corruptibility. Deeply held ideals were at the root of the two most central figures in the case. For site founder Ulbricht, the Libertarian beliefs that drive him to create Silk Road eventually gave way under a wave of need to preserve his power, leading him even more deeply into criminal violence. Carl Mark Force, a former DEA agent who played a pivotal role by going undercover and gaining Ulbricht’s trust, began with a dedication to his work and ended with a conviction for extortion and money laundering. If nothing else, the story of the takedown of Silk Road is a story about the dangers of compromised principles.



Trauma passed on to children's genes
September 30, 2015

You have your mother’s eyes, your father’s smile, and perhaps your grandmother’s freckles, all handed down to you like family heirlooms through genetics. However, new research is offering support for the notion than what can also be passed along in family genetics is not so benign.

Epigenetic inheritance is the idea that environmental stressors such as poor diet, smoking and traumas can affect the genes of subsequent generations. Scientist Rachel Yehuda and her research team from New York’s Mount Sinai hospital has concluded a study of Jewish men and women who had traumatic experiences during World War II either as concentration camp prisoners or being forced to hide for the duration of the war. In comparing the results with the control group, Jewish men and women who lived outside of Europe during the war, they have noted the presence of epigrammatic tags in the Holocaust survivors and their children that are not evident in the control group and their offspring.

Read The Guardian:
"Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes"


While it still isn’t completely clear how these genetic tags are handed down from parent to child, this and other scientific research is beginning to form a clear picture suggesting that trauma can have a deep and lasting impact on our children’s physical and mental health.

Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services in Atlanta sees this development as yet another arrow pointing to the need for palliative services and early intervention. “There’s nothing we can do at present to alter genes,” says Baldwin, “so the need for preventive programs should be evident.”



You just got out of Prison, Now What?
August 20, 2015

Imagine yourself in whole other world. You’re away from your home, your friends, your work...everything that feels familiar is gone. You have to acquire a new reality, a new way of living day-to-day, maybe even a new language. You’re away for a long time—years, maybe decades. And then suddenly you are picked up and cast back into the world you left behind long ago.

This is the experience of incarcerated men and women who come to the end of long sentences and suddenly find themselves back out in the world with little more than the few items they had on them at their intake. And for some of them, the world they are thrust back into bears little to no resemblance to what they remember before prison. The speed of technological advance, the ways we deal with money, even something as basic as the ways in which we communicate have evolved at speeds which can baffle even those of us who live with it daily.

The New York Times recently ran an article highlighting the commitment of two L.A.-based ex-convicts who pick up parolees and help guide them through the first steps in their re-entry into civilian life. From first restaurant meals to shopping for supplies to even helping them start mapping out a plan to make sure their last trip through the system will really be their last, the mission of Carols Cervantes and Roby So is to do a small part to prevent recidivism by giving their charges some tools to make coping with their new world more appealing than a return to the familiar environs of prison.

Read New York Times Magazine:
"You Just Got Out Of Prison. Now What?"


Since the mid-2000s, prisoner re-entry has been a major area of focus in the justice system at large. Applied Research Services is heavily involved in evaluating the Georgia Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (GA-PRI) pilot project which identifies medium and high risk offenders (called returning citizens) exiting prison and connects them to programs and services in the community to increase their chances of success.

Staff based inside the prison system conduct interviews with returning citizens and performs risk-assessment and the data is handed over to transition teams of community supervision officers and service providers. Together, these teams meet with the returning citizen and get the supports in place to help get their needs met, so that they can be solidly grounded in their new life of freedom with responsibility.



The Milwaukee Experiment
June 05, 2015

While everyone from late-night pundits to social media mavens have weighed in on the alarming number of deaths of African-American men in police confrontations, few seem to be offering clear analysis or solutions. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a local jurisdiction where ARS provides research assistance as a part of a Justice Re-Investment Initiative grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is one of a few cities in the nation who are taking a serious look at its criminal justice system in an effort to address a growing national conversation about race, bias, and the impact both have on arrest, prosecution, and incarceration.

An article in The New Yorker catalogs the struggle of District Attorney John Chisholm of Milwaukee as he seeks solutions to the startling racial imbalance in the incarceration record of his home state of Wisconsin. In Milwaukee County alone, more than half of the male African American population has served time; even in a state where the percentage of working age African American men is almost double the national average, this is troubling.

In 2007, DA Chisholm allowed an independent research project to examine the racial implications of the work of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, and is using the gathered data to redefine how low-level criminals are prosecuted in an effort to stop the massive cradle-to-jail pipeline to which many low-income minorities are subject. While Chisholm has many opponents--among them David A Clarke, Sheriff of Milwaukee County and an outspoken supporter of tougher prosecution and sentencing for all levels of criminal activity--his concentrated efforts to find solutions to the racial imbalance plaguing the national justice system offers a compelling glimpse of a future where the accent falls more on “justice” rather than “criminal.”

Read The New Yorker:
"The Milwaukee Experiment" by Jeffery Toobin



Brain Scan Research
March 30, 2015

In the world of law enforcement, a key area of concern is the ability to predict the likelihood of recidivism. Once a criminal has paid the debt to society, what are the odds that he or she will “go forth and sin no more”? In the past, the answer to that question would have been no more than a roll of dice, since human psychology was fairly bad at accurately predicting which offenders would successfully rehabilitate, and which would end up back in the system. However, as commentary by David Wagner of Information Week suggests, brain scans are being researched as a method to predict crime recurrence, and the results have been more highly correlative than past methods. While it remains to be seen how much impact this can have on future public policy, it’s an encouraging development.

Dr. Kevin Baldwin of Applied Research Services, an Atlanta-based firm, notes that brain scan research and its power to predict behavior patterns will likely become very important in the next few years. “First, we’re always looking at how we can best assess risk,” says Baldwin. “Second, the emerging field of neurolaw suggests that the use of brain scans in the courtroom may provide mitigating evidence, in that it calls into question the primacy of volition in criminal conduct.”

Read InformationWeek:
Geekend: Predicting Your Future By Scanning Your Brain


Is your entire future locked up in a few brain scans?












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