We are excited to announce the 2021 recipients of Program in Criminal Justice Graduate Student Research Grants. The award process was open to PhD candidates from any of the units on Harvard’s campus conducting research to address questions related to the criminal legal system. Priority was given to students who are conducting research that is timely and whose findings have the potential to shape policy and/or conducting research that tackles an important set of questions related to specific policies in the criminal legal realm.  

Brian Highsmith -- Municipal Hoarding and the Consumerization of Local Public Goods

This project examines connections between residential segregation, economic inequality, and the growing budgetary reliance in the United States on fines and fees. Specifically, the project will explore how the interaction between residential segregation and municipal boundaries contributes to fiscal pressures in excluded communities (“municipal hoarding”), which in turn may encourage jurisdictions to shift the costs of public goods onto vulnerable residents (the “consumerization” of local public goods). Particularly since the Great Recession—in a cycle now repeating itself as the result of COVID-related fiscal pressures—cash-strapped jurisdictions have turned to regressive funding schemes to fund critical services. I am researching how this trend is related to, and may be partly explained by, the phenomenon of municipal hoarding, including through the pathway of increasing geospatial wealth concentration.

Brian HighsmithBrian Highsmith is a Ph.D. student in Government and Social Policy at Harvard University and an affiliated Senior Researcher at the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law. His research explores connections between economic inequality, residential segregation, fiscal federalism, corporate power, mass punishment, and democracy. After graduating from Yale Law School in 2017, he was a Skadden Fellow at the National Consumer Law Center; his litigation and advocacy there challenged the unaffordable financial obligations that are imposed by private companies on poor families as a result of their contact with the criminal system (focusing on the commercial bail and prison phone industries). Before joining NCLC, he worked in DC on domestic economic policy with a focus on income support programs and fiscal policy—including as an advisor at President Obama’s National Economic Council, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the office of Senator Cory Booker. 

Jasmine Nicole Olivier -- Reimagining Public Safety: policing and community control in a Boston public housing development

This study is one of the first sociological accounts of transformations in policing and community-control in a formerly tenant-owned public housing development. Using crime data, archival data, semi-structured interviews, and an original survey as research methods, this study seeks to examine the following research question: how do institutional (police, housing management, social service providers) and community actors (tenant leaders and residents) work to address safety and quality-of-life issues at Mildred C. Hailey apartments, and how have these approaches changed over time (late 1960s to present)? Ultimately, this study aims to contribute to policy initiatives centered on developing innovative, community-centered approaches to safety within low-income racial minority communities, especially within U.S. public housing developments.

Jasmine OlivierJasmine Nicole Olivier is a Sociology PhD candidate at Harvard University with a research focus on racial inequities within the criminal justice system. In particular, her passion for applied research on policing stems from her experiences growing up in a heavily policed racial minority neighborhood in New York City. Through her research and advocacy work, Jasmine hopes to bring about substantive changes to institutions servicing low-income communities of color. 

Felix Owusu -- Diversion, Non-prosecution, and Public Safety in Suffolk County, MA

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) has taken unprecedented steps to limit their use of criminal sanctions for individuals charged with non-violent offenses in recent years, including identifying several common non-violent offenses for increased diversion and declination and limiting the use of pretrial detention. These changes reflect mounting evidence that relying on policing, criminal adjudication, and incarceration to address non-violent conduct is costly, exacerbates racial disparities, and is often ineffective at improving public safety. Others are concerned, however, that increasing leniency for low level offenses will embolden people who commit crimes and lead to more serious misconduct. These policy changes provide an ideal opportunity to explore the impacts of limiting criminal sanctions for non-violent offenses. Towards that end, we will complete a quantitative analysis of the impact of the SCDAO’s policy changes on defendants’ future criminal legal system involvement, racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing, and public safety more broadly. This analysis will leverage administrative data from the SCDAO’s internal case management database, the Massachusetts Trial Court, and the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services as well as other publicly available data sources.

Felix OwusuFelix Owusu is a doctoral candidate in public policy at Harvard University, an Affiliate at the Harvard Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and a Fellow at the Lab @ DC. He studies the application of law and bureaucratic processes in law enforcement agencies and their impacts across race and class. Felix has recently served as a Data Scientist in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC and a Research Fellow at Harvard Law School's Criminal Justice Policy Program, where he was the lead researcher on the report on Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal System submitted to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, Felix was involved in policy research at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Felix holds a BA in economics and political science from Williams College and an MPP from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Nefara Riesch & Cierra Robson -- Determinants of Campus Police Militarization

Today, most university and college campuses around the country employ their own police forces. These forces are appointed by, managed, and otherwise controlled by campus administrators with little public oversight. Yet, these campus police forces are often deputized to act as an extension of city police forces: in one recent example, the City of Boston deputized the Harvard University Police Department to patrol, arrest, and otherwise police Black Lives Matter Protesters in downtown Boston (Schumer, 2020). These campus police, then, enact social control over both students and residents of nearby neighborhoods otherwise unaffiliated with the university. While much literature examines the relationship between university and college campuses and adjacent neighborhoods, little explores the role of these campus police forces. This research examines the question: what interests do campus police protect and who do they protect against? Using police militarization as a proxy for a desire to protect some interest, we examine the determinants of campus police militarization using data from the Law Enforcement Support Office, the National Center for Education Statistics, the American Community Survey and the Census. We test two hypotheses: first, do campus police act to protect the university from students? Second, do campus police aim to protect the university from the surrounding neighborhoods? Finally, we consider whether these interests differ with various controls such as geographic location of the university, whether the university is public or private, and the size of the university’s endowment. 

Nefara RieschNefara Riesch is a PhD student in Sociology & Social Policy and a Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Research Fellow in Poverty and Justice. Her research focuses on how institutions and policies affect social stratification. She is currently working on projects spanning the areas of policing, wage inequality, and residential segregation. Prior to doctoral studies, Nefara worked in policy research, focusing on homelessness, employment, and policing. She also has extensive experience working in college access and retention. Nefara received her MPP from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and BA in history from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is from East Palo Alto, California.

Cierra RobsonCierra Robson is a PhD student in Sociology and Social Policy and a Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Research Fellow in Poverty and Justice. She is also theAssociate Director of the Ida B. Wells JUST Data Lab at Princeton University where she guides research teams in partnership with community organizations to explore how data can be retooled for racial justice. Broadly, her research explores the ways in which technological advancements both reinforce and revolutionize racial inequality in the United States, particularly within the criminal justice system.  Cierra holds a BA in African American Studies from Princeton University, where she specialized in studies of race and public policy and pursued a minor in Technology and Society. She is from Boston, Massachusetts.