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Active Funded Research Projects

Identifying and Informing Strategies for Disrupting Drug Distribution Networks: An Application of Community Policing to Opiate Flows in Pennsylvania

This project seeks to understand, describe, and disrupt networks of illicit sales of opiates from a public safety perspective in partnership with Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, and local treatment facilities. This project will help to understand hotspots of drug distribution and access, while addressing the utility of community based policing in addressing this complex issue.

 

Prior research emphasizes the disruption of the supply of prescription opioids from healthcare sources and increased first-provider access to the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone. Additional efforts emphasize combating demand by increasing treatment options for users. Within this context, however, there has been less emphasis on understanding, describing, and disrupting networks of illicit sales of opiates from a public safety perspective. We aim to fill a gap in these efforts by partnering with law enforcement, state agencies, and community organizations to identify and describe opiate distribution of opiates in PA and the geographic hotspots of sales within urban and rural PA communities to inform recommendations aimed at disrupting the supply of illegal opiates (including heroin, fentanyl, and diverted prescription opioids). We will develop tools to identify and describe opiate distribution networks and geographic hotspots of opiate activity from administrative data and community input that will be of broad interest to public safety and health experts in other communities in PA and other states.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigators: Glenn Sterner, Post-Doctoral Scholar, Justice Center for Research, Department of Sociology and Criminology, ges5098@psu.edu; Ashton Verdery, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Demography, Department of Sociology and Criminology, amv5430@psu.edu; Shannon Monnat, Associate Professor, Sociology, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, smmonnat@maxwell.syr.edu
  • Co-Investigators: Pete Forster, Associate Dean, College of Information Sciences and Technology, pforster@ist.psu.edu; Gary Zajac, Managing Director, Justice Center for Research, gxz3@psu.edu; Scott Yabiku, Department of Sociology and Criminology, sty105@psu.edu

      About the Project

      • The National Institute of Justice made an award of $990,002 to Penn State to support this project, for the period  January 1, 2018 – December, 31, 2019.
      • The Pilot Study for this project was supported by the College of the Liberal Arts.

      Research Questions

      1. What are the characteristics of heroin and fentanyl distribution networks? We will focus on their hierarchical structure, number and strength of connections, clusters of distribution possibly associated with different organizations, susceptibility of distribution networks to disruption, and geographic spread.
      2. What are the characteristics (same as #1) of prescription opioid distribution networks?
      3. How do the distribution networks of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opiates compare?
      4. How do residents’ perceptions of the geographic locations of opiate distribution compare to police collected data on opiate arrests, opiate seizures, and distribution locations?
      5. What are the differences in demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and major highway access between neighborhoods with high versus low opiate distribution as defined by arrest data?
      6. What are the differences in demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and major highway access between neighborhoods with high versus low opiate distribution as defined by participatory mapping?

        Project Objectives

        1. Identify and document the structure of heroin and fentanyl distribution networks in PA.
        2. Identify and document the structure of diverted prescription opioid networks in PA.
        3. Compare heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid distribution networks in PA and their connections to each other.
        4. Develop and apply tools to record resident identified locations of local opiate distribution in 6 Pennsylvania Counties.
        5. Compare resident identified locations of local opiate distribution to relevant arrest locations.
        6. Describe the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods with high vs. low distribution (as measured by arrest records and respondent reporting).
        7. Provide recommendations for law enforcement to better target heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid distribution networks in ways that increase network disruption.
        8. Provide recommendations for improving intelligence gathering activities related to documenting and disrupting opiate distribution networks.
        9. Create stronger community and law enforcement connections.
        10. Disseminate information for opiate treatment and reporting of illicit activity at study sites.
        11. Create a portable data fusion model that other jurisdictions can employ to document, detect, and disrupt opiate distribution networks.

          Implications

          Looking more broadly at the value and impact of a geo-spatial approach to understanding opiate markets and avenues for their disruption, opiate abuse has tremendous consequences for the welfare of drug users, affecting their long term involvement in the criminal justice system, as well as their health, employment and employability, family relations, and other outcomes. Drug use and the criminal justice system involvement that often follows have consequences for the wellbeing not only of addicts and dealers themselves, but also for their families and more broadly their communities. Improved interdiction approaches that can result from our proposed study has benefits not only for the criminal justice and public health systems that are responding to the opiate crisis, but also for the communities that are harmed by widespread use of these substances, where such harm includes public health impacts, violence and social disorder. Our project will also encourage broader collaboration between researchers and law enforcement, especially in rural communities, and will set the stage for further applications of research and analysis to the study of opiate and other drug abuse in other communities beyond PA, demonstrating the importance of this approach and testing methods and innovations that can be diffused across many law enforcement settings nationally. We have an extensive plan to disseminate this information to a broad audience, including local and state criminal justice organizations, local, state, and national government officials, academic organizations, non-profit organizations, treatment and addiction centers, and task forces.

          Although this study is limited to six counties in PA, the analyses and results from this study will have the ability to inform policy and practice across the Commonwealth and the United States. First, our innovative approach to data fusion will be of interest to law enforcement agencies to use as a model for addressing complex criminal justice issues. We are utilizing datasets from multiple units within the PA State Police to develop understandings of drug distributions. Similarly, we are utilizing community-based data gathering and existing data to gain clearer understandings of drug sales in neighborhoods. By tackling this issue from multiple perspectives, we are able to provide recommendations for police enforcement policy and practice to ensure efforts are maximized to disrupt the distribution of opiates. Integration across inter-departmental agencies and across jurisdictions is a model that could be applied to the opiate epidemic and other criminal justice concerns. Second, by identifying the common characteristics of communities where significant distribution occurs, we can inform criminal justice agencies on potential areas for concentrating officer targeting.

          Project Partners

          Justice Center for Research, Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and The Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

          Share Your Opioid Story: A Collaboration between Independence Blue Cross Foundation, The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Penn State University

          This project will tell the individual stories of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region, addressing the stigma associated with opioid addiction.

          Project Team

          Principal Investigator:  Glenn Sterner, Ph.D.
          Co-Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
          Researcher: Elaine Arsenault, M.A.

          About the Project

          Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties continue to present some of the highest rates of overdose from opiates in Pennsylvania. In 2015, 1,338 individuals lost their lives in the five county Philadelphia Region. Along with this loss in our community, addiction treatment, law enforcement issues, and disruption of family life all accompany those affected by the opioid crisis in the Philadelphia region and beyond.

          The story of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region, much like the rest of the country, continues to be told through the use of staggering statistics including the deaths reported above, rates of overdoses, uses of opiate reversal therapy, amount of people seeking treatment, amount of additional resources needed to treat those suffering with addiction, amount of opiates seized from law enforcement, among many others. However, these numbers fail to capture the effect of opiate addiction on individuals, family members, friends, and communities. 

          Glenn Sterner will coordinate a team of individuals that consists of Penn State University researchers and IBX professionals on a project to tell the individual stories of the opiate crisis in the Philadelphia Region and Philadelphia more broadly, addressing the stigma associated with opioid addiction.  Dr. Sterner, a Post-Doctoral Scholar in the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, is an expert with regards to the opiate crisis.  He is involved in numerous research projects across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to address this issue, and he is Chair of the Pennsylvania Coalition to address Heroin and Opioid Addiction.  Through this project, the aim is to illuminate and give voice to those affected by the opiate crisis to raise awareness of how pervasive and invasive this crisis is in the Philadelphia region and across the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has signed on as a partner in this project to expand its reach across the state.  Through the collaboration between Penn State University researchers, IBX professionals, and the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, we hope to tell the stories of individuals of the opiate crisis in our Philadelphia communities to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and thereby enable others to talk more broadly about this critical subject to receive the help they desperately need.  This effort is funded by the IBX Foundation, and all products of the project will be made available to the public through an interactive website.  In addition, we will be engaging student interns from the Rehabilitation and Human Services Program at the Penn State Abington Campus to host community events in the summer of 2018 to facilitate community conversations around stigma associated with the opioid crisis.

          Project Objectives

          Through this phase of the project we aim to:

          1. Interview 3-5 individuals from each of the 5 counties in the Philadelphia Region (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia) who have been affected by opiate addiction.
          2. Produce 10 short videos that will tell an individual’s story.
          3. Produce 30 short print stories that will tell each individual’s story.
          4. PSU team will work with IBX Foundation’s communications staff to prepare and broadly disseminate findings and stories through blog postings and articles.
          5. Produce a website that highlights the stories of opioid addiction.
          6. Host community presentations on the stories and website, and assess the impact of these presentations on audiences.
          7. Increase awareness of the broad spectrum of people affected by opiate addiction in the Philadelphia Region and across Pennsylvania.
          8. Increase awareness of resources available to those affected by opiate addiction in the Philadelphia Region and across Pennsylvania.

          Implications

          This is an incredibly important project, as it will help to begin to explore the diverse experiences associated with the opioid crisis currently ravaging our communities.  By helping to address the stereotypes associated with opioid addiction and those affected by opioid addiction by illuminating the myriad diverse individuals in our study, we may be able to increase those seeking help for opioid addiction and expedite this process.  Stigma associated with opioid addiction can lead to shame associated with this disease, which delays the initiation into addiction counseling services.  By beginning to help to address this stigma through our research, individuals may be more apt to seek services earlier, leading to quicker positive outcomes.

          Through our website and outreach activities, we hope to be able to connect those affected by the opioid crisis on a broader scale.  We also hope to give voice to those stories associated with the opioid crisis.

          Additionally, this project will help to examine the effects of the opioid crisis and opioid addiction on individuals, helping us to examine research needed to document the ways that this crisis may be differentially affecting communities and marginalized individuals.  We anticipate that this will uncover narratives that will differ across experiences, leading to further expanded research.

          Finally, this project will help to further understand the depth of impact on individuals in our sample by the opioid crisis and opioid addiction.  While quantitative studies document the propensity of this issue, this project is specifically designed to provide greater context of the statistical analyses, and may uncover additional areas for quantitative research opportunities.  This project will help to provide a needed understanding of the life altering experiences associated with the opioid crisis and opioid addiction.

          Project Partners

          Justice Center for Research, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

          Participate in the Project

          Telling the Stories of the Opioid Crisis – We want to hear from you

          Have you lost a loved one or a friend to an opioid overdose?  Are you in recovery from opioid addiction?  Are you currently struggling with opioid addiction? Or maybe you have been affected by the opioid epidemic in some other way.

          We want to talk to you, because we would like to hear your story. 

          Dr. Glenn Sterner from the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University is working to collect the stories of the opioid crisis in our Philadelphia communities. We want to show the human side of the opioid epidemic, how it affects people of all backgrounds, and the impacts it has had on individuals, family members, friends and communities.

          We have two goals.  First, we want to reduce the stigma surrounding the crisis and help people to talk about opioid addiction more openly. Second, we want to connect those affected by the opioid crisis, so you can know that you are not alone.  By doing so, we hope to assist those affected in getting the help they desperately need.

          If you live in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties, we want to sit down with you and hear your story of how the opioid epidemic has affected your life.  From this interview, we will document your story and post it in on an online website we are in the process of creating that will share your story and the story of others across the Philadelphia region and across Pennsylvania.

          If you are interested in sharing your story, please email shareopioidstories@gmail.com or call 814-867-3295.  We will connect with you as soon as possible.  Thank you for your interest.

           

          Understanding Incarceration and Re-Entry Experiences of Female Inmates and their Children: The Women’s Prison Inmate Networks Study (WO-PINS)

          This developmental study investigates the incarceration and re-entry experiences of female inmates and their children.

          Project Team

          • Investigators: Derek Kreager, Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu), Gary Zajac, Sara Wakefield (Rutgers University), Dana Haynie (Ohio State University), and Michaela Soyer (Hunter College)

          About the Project

          • This project will fill three critical knowledge gaps identified by the National Research Council in their report on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States: (1) the absence of even basic information on modern conditions of confinement, (2) the potential heterogeneity in incarceration effects across individual and institutional contexts, and (3) the limited understanding of any association between maternal incarceration and child well-being.
          • The proposed project will leverage strong relationships with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to explore the prison and re-entry experiences of female inmates incarcerated in two Pennsylvania prison units. 

          Project Details

          • In Phase 1, investigators will reveal each units' informal organization and culture using innovative social network data that maps the unit's friendship network, status hierarchy, and romantic ties. Network analyses will test hypotheses for the sources of prison status and the associations between inmate social position and outcomes such as prison victimization, mental health, official misconduct, and family visitation.
          • In Phase 2, parole-eligible inmate respondents in the two Pennsylvania prisons will be administered semi-structured qualitative and network interviews to garner their future expectations, social capital, and preparations for community re-entry. Women's expected social networks provide a unique glimpse into the re-entry process that can later be compared to actual networks upon release. This phase of the project has clear implications for family reintegration, employment, post-release program participation, and relapse/recidivism. Contemporaneously, child and caregiver interviews will be conducted for inmate respondents who are mothers. These interviews will capture the well-being, fears, aspirations, and preparations of inmates' families and surrogate parents prior to prison release.
          • During Phase 3, investigators will conduct two post-release community interviews of Phase 2 respondents to understand how the previously imprisoned women, their children, and caregivers have adjusted to life after prison and if their envisioned plans came to fruition. The goals of this phase will be to identify and drill down on the mechanisms underlying successful prison re-entry and criminal desistance.

          Project Products

          • Aided by an advisory board of social scientists, correctional practitioners, and child advocates, the project's data and products will test theoretically-driven hypotheses while also informing prison-based and community programs aimed at smoothing the inmate re-entry experience and reducing negative child and inmate health and behavioral outcomes. 
          • NIJ award for $685,857 over 3 years.

          Therapeutic Community Prison Inmate Networks Study (TC-PINS)

          This study examines the social networks of prison inmates in a prison drug and alcohol therapeutic community (TC).

          Project Team

          • Principal Investigator: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu)
          • Co-Investigators: Gary Zajac, Martin Bouchard (SFU), George DeLeon, (NYU), Dana Haynie (OSU), David Schaefer (ASU), Michaela Soyer (Hunter), Jacob Young (ASU)

          About the Project

          • The National Institute of Health made an award of $444,084 to Penn State to support this project, for the period August 1, 2015 – July 31, 2017.
          • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support development of this project, including collection of pilot data.
          • This study is related to the PINS project discussed in the previous section and the R-PINS project under development, discussed under the Justice Center Supported Projects section.

            Research Questions

            • How does the informal inmate network structure relate to the diffusion of treatment outcomes in a prison-based therapeutic community?
            • How do inmates’ positions within the TC network structure relate to their treatment engagement and post-TC drug relapse and criminal recidivism?
            • How do informal inmate network structures influence offender reentry?

              Project Details

              • Project will focus on inmate social networks in a drug and alcohol treatment therapeutic community (TC) within a State Correctional Institution within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
              • Selection of a specific institution is still being finalized, with an initial wave of data collection anticipated for summer of 2016.
              • As with the PINS study, all inmates within a selected TC will be recruited for participation in computer assisted personal interviews.
              • Project has full support from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

                Implications

                • This study will have important implications for understanding how inmate social networks influence inmate reentry as well as the dynamics of the prison therapeutic community setting.

                Prison Inmate Networks Study (PINS)

                This study examines the social networks of prison inmates in a state correctional institution.

                Project Team

                • Principal Investigator: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu)
                • Co-Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac
                • Co-Investigators: Martin Bouchard (SFU), Dana Haynie (OSU), David Schaefer (ASU), Michaela Soyer (Hunter), Jacob Young (ASU), Sara Wakefield (Rutgers)

                About the Project

                  • The National Science Foundation made an award of $323,814 to Penn State to support this project, for the period April 15, 2015 - March 31, 2017.
                  • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support development of this project, including collection of pilot data.
                  • This study is related to the TC-PINS project discussed in the next section and the R-PINS project under development, discussed under the Justice Center Supported Projects section.

                  Research Questions

                  • What is the structure and implications of inmate network ties for in-prison health and rehabilitation and post-release recidivism?
                  • How does an inmate’s position within the unit’s informal network structure relate to his out-of-prison ties and community reentry?

                    Project Details

                    • Project focuses on inmate social networks in a minimum security general population unit at a medium security Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution.
                    • All inmates within a single unit were recruited for participation in computer assisted personal interviews, with a response rate of approximately 70% across two waves of data collection during summer and fall of 2015.
                    • Project has full support from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

                    Public Data

                    • How do I acknowledge the use of the PINS data in an analysis? Please use the following text when acknowledging the use of the data: This research uses data from The Prison Inmate Network Study (PINS), a program project directed and designed Derek Kreager Martin Bouchard, Dana Haynie, David Schaefer, Michaela Soyer, Sara Wakefield, Jacob Young, and Gary Zajac, and is funded by grant LSS-1457193 from the National Science Foundation. Special acknowledgment is due to Corey Whichard, Ed Hayes, Gerardo Cuevas, Wade Jacobsen, and Kim Davidson for interview and coding assistance, and to Bret Bucklen and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for their valuable support of this project. Information on how to obtain the PINS data files is available on the PINS website (http://justicecenter.psu.edu/research/pins). No direct support was received from grant LSS-1457193 for this analysis.
                    • How do I cite PINS data in a manuscript? Please use the following text when citing the use of the data: Kreager, Derek, Martin Bouchard, Dana Haynie, David Schaefer, Michaela Soyer, Sara Wakefield, Jacob Young, and Gary Zajac. 2015. The Prison Inmate Network Study (PINS), Wave I, 1995. State College, PA: Justice Center for Research, Penn State University.

                      Implications

                      • This study will have important implications for understanding how inmate social networks influence inmates’ lives and wellbeing in prison, as well as their reentry prospects.

                       

                      View the Project Abstract (.docx file)

                      The Administration of the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

                      Researchers are investigating racial disparity in death penalty sentencing in all death-eligible cases in Pennsylvania during the time period 1998-2010.

                      Project Team

                      • Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Ulmer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology ()
                      • Co-Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
                      • Project Consultant: John Kramer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology- Emeritus 
                      • Research Assistant: Edward Hayes, M.A., Robert Hutchison, M.A.

                      About the Project

                      • Funded by the PA Supreme Court’s Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness and the Falk Foundation.

                      Research Questions

                      • Is there racial disparity in death penalty sentencing in PA?

                      Project Details

                      • Identify all death eligible cases in PA during the time period 1998-2010.
                      • Analyze the role that race plays relative to other variables in determining death penalty sentencing.
                      • Currently in the data analysis phase.

                      Implications

                      • Results will inform public debate on the controversial topic of the death penalty.

                      Final Report

                      Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 6 – Capital Punishment

                      The Justice Center was named as the primary collaborator and advisor to this agenda of research into the state of capital punishment within Pennsylvania. Justice Center researchers are involved in several research topics from the resolution including fairness, public opinion, secondary trauma, and role of mental disorder in capital punishment.

                      Project Team

                      • Project Consultant: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (gxz3@psu.edu)
                      • Project Consultant: John Kramer, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology- Emeritus
                      • Project Consultant: Derek Kreager, Ph.D., Department of Sociology & Criminology

                      About the Project

                      • In 2011, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Resolution Number 6 calling for an agenda of research into the state of capital punishment within Pennsylvania.
                      • The Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission has primary responsibility for the management of this resolution, but the Justice Center for Research was named in the resolution as the primary collaborator and advisor to this effort.

                      Research Questions

                      • The resolution identifies 17 specific research topics surrounding the death penalty in Pennsylvania, including issues of cost, fairness, public opinion, alternatives, juror selection, penological intent, and related issues.

                      Project Details

                      • The Justice Center is directly participating in several of these topics, including fairness (see summary of death penalty project), public opinion, secondary trauma, and role of mental disorder.

                      Implications

                      • This work will directly inform deliberations in the PA Senate on policy surrounding capital punishment.

                      Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute (PACSETI) Evaluation

                      The Justice Center is working with Penn State’s Justice and Safety Institute (JASI) on the ongoing evaluation of the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute (PACSETI). PACSETI is a major, long term project of JASI, which is an original partner of the Center. PACSETI provides all of the training for the child support enforcement caseworkers throughout Pennsylvania. The Center is serving as the evaluation partner for PACSETI, and Diana Samardzic’s position is funded through this partnership. Dr. Zajac is part of the PACSETI management team, and is working with Diana on an ongoing program evaluation around PACSETI.

                      Project Team

                      • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D.
                      • Research Assistant: Diana Samardzic, M.A

                      About the Project

                      • PACSETI is funded through a multi-year contract from the PA Department of Human Services, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, to JASI.
                      • Training targets are caseworkers employed by the Domestic Relations Sections within Pennsylvania's county courts.
                      • Diana is based out of the School of Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, pursuant to the nascent linkage between the School, JASI, and the Center.

                      Research Questions

                      • What are the impacts of PACSETI on caseworker training satisfaction, knowledge gain, job behavior and ultimately more distal performance outcomes of the county Domestic Relations Sections.

                      Project Details

                      • Evaluation plans are now being developed.

                      Implications

                      • Strong implications for the operations of the county DRS offices and the success of the child support enforcement mission.