We are excited to announce the 2023 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.  

GeorgePatrick J. Hutchins — Management of Criminal Stigma in the Clinical Encounter

Incarceration status is a critical contributor to the presence of in-group and out-group health disparities, occurring along ethnoracial lines and resulting from systemic racism. A critical link in this pathway is stigma, a concept first elaborated by sociologist Erving Goffman, denoting a mark of shame, disgrace, or status loss creating symbolic boundaries that have the effect of “othering” an individual. A substantial literature describes the implications of stigma on the healthcare quality and the persistence of disparities; however, limited studies have explored the way criminal stigma tangibly manifests through micro-level interactions within clinical encounters. As such, this project seeks to provide empirical support to better characterize the role of medical providers as social actors in the process linking criminal-legal stigmatization and health disparities.

George HutchinsGeorgePatrick (George) Hutchins (he/him) is a Doctoral Student in Sociology and MD Candidate at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from Indiana University in 2019 with a BA in Biochemistry and Sociology, with honors.

His current research interests exist at the intersection of race, culture, and crime and how these impact the health of those with criminal legal histories. This includes elucidating the medical consequences of incarceration by questioning the role physicians have played and continue to play in legitimizing carceral systems and commenting on the deleterious effects of jails, prisons, and policing. As a physician-scientist, he intends to have an active clinical practice that will be directly informed by his research and advance discourse within and beyond the academy. 

George has spent time as a research assistant in several contexts, most recently examining the experiences of those with criminal histories as they seek healthcare and testing the impact of accreditation processes on carceral health outcomes. 

Emma Rackstraw — When Reality TV Creates Reality: How "Copaganda" Affects Viewers, Police, and Communities

Hundreds of police departments and sheriffs’ offices across the United States have welcomed reality TV camera crews in recent decades, first from the show COPS and more recently its 21st-century counterpart Live PD. Although I find that a typical police officer makes no arrests in a given month, nearly all COPS segments end in an arrest. Is this a function of editing, or does the presence of the reality TV cameras fundamentally alter arrest behavior? I take advantage of two sources of variation in the location and timing of Live PD camera presence: across departments and, using a novel dataset constructed from Freedom of Information Act requests, across officers within filming departments. At the department level, I find that the presence of Live PD cameras significantly increases discretionary arrests for quality-of-life crimes, such as drug possession and loitering. In treated departments, this change in enforcement activity is greatest among filmed officers but spills over to their colleagues.

Emma RackstrawEmma Rackstraw is a PhD candidate in Public Policy at Harvard. Her research is focused on understanding the decision-making processes and incentive systems facing key decision-makers in the U.S. criminal justice system and labor market, as well as how those decisions interact with systemic inequities. Her work uses theory and techniques from labor economics, experimental economics, and behavioral economics, as well as other disciplines like psychology and political science. She is a NSF GRFP Fellow. She previously led the Crime and Political Economy & Governance sectors at J-PAL North America at MIT, was an Associate Fellow at the Office of Evaluation Sciences, and was a Research Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers.


Emma Rackstraw discusses her project on TikTok:

@harvardkennedyschool PhD candidate Emma Rackstraw discusses her research on “copaganda” where she aims to answer: what does the omnipresence of cop reality TV shows mean for individuals both behind and in front of the cameras? #LearnOnTikTik #Copaganda #Propaganda #RealityShows #Harvard #PublicPolicy #RealityTV #HarvardKennedySchool #PhDResearch ♬ original sound - Harvard Kennedy School
Ash Smith — Evaluating the Aims and Challenges of Reform Prosecution

In recent years, advocates have pushed to reform the U.S. criminal justice system from the inside out—by reconstituting the American prosecutorial regime. With increasing recognition of the tremendous power and discretion that prosecutors wield at the local level, the "progressive prosecution" (or "reform prosecution") movement was born. In contrast to their more traditionalist, self-styled "tough on crime" counterparts, this group of reformers describe themselves as "smart on crime," focusing on data-driven efforts to refocus the resources of the prosecutor's office to both enhance public safety and curtail mass incarceration and its effects. However, little is known about the efficacy of the reform prosecution movement as an empirical matter: are elected "progressive" or "reform" prosecutors pursuing, and ultimately achieving, meaningful policy and cultural reforms? What challenges or obstacles do they face along the way, and what strategies do they use to overcome barriers to change? This research explores these questions through a mixed-methods approach -- examining outcome-metrics at reform prosecutors' offices over time, as well as cultural, political, and structural barriers to change.

Ash SmithAsh Smith is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Harvard University and a J.D. graduate of Harvard Law School. She has worked in the fields of poverty law; criminal defense, at a public defender's office; criminal appellate law, with the MacArthur Justice Center; and at a reform-minded prosecutor's office, as a Fair and Just Prosecution Fellow. Building on her practical experiences in the criminal legal system, Ash’s research interests lie at the intersection of law and society, with a focus on inequalities in the criminal justice system and potential avenues of reform. Her scholarship has appeared in the Harvard Law Review and Crime & Justice. Ash's mixed-methods dissertation broadly examines the efficacy of reform-minded prosecution in the United States. Her qualitative practitioner interviews reveal challenges faced and strategies pursued by elected prosecutors to achieve reforms, while the quantitative component aims to assess empirical outcome-metrics at reform-minded prosecutors' offices over time. Originally from the New Haven area, Ash holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame, and she is licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia (active status).

Michael Zanger-Tishler — National Contexts and Data Cultures: A Comparative Study

Data and struggles around them are at the core of much contemporary social science research, journalism, and activism. Notably, quantitative data have been both heralded as potential tools for ameliorating inequalities and critiqued as methods for reproducing official narratives. These different positions are especially pronounced when it comes to the criminal legal system, where publicly evaluated claims about policing often hinge on statistics derived from administrative data. Given that statistics continue to assume a more prominent role in our society as a shared language to make claims that can be evaluated and understood by others, our ability to make sense of the world through data has become even more important. In this project, I will interview researchers working with quantitative data in three different national contexts: The United States, Israel, and France. In doing so, I will study how different data cultures affect the type of academic research on different subjects, including policing. In doing so, this work will explore how the state and legal structures shape the data available to work with and how these differences in turn affect social science research and public discourse.

Michael Zanger-TishlerMichael Zanger-Tishler is a PhD student in Sociology & Social Policy. He is interested in understanding the relationship between ethnoracial division and the criminal justice system in a comparative context, specifically looking at the United States, Israel, and France. As an undergraduate, he wrote his senior thesis on criminal justice contact among diverse populations using an original survey and coauthored an article entitled "The Great Decoupling: The Disconnection Between Criminal Offending and Experience of Arrest Across Two Cohorts" with Vesla Weaver and Andrew Papachristos. Prior to beginning the PhD program, he was a CASA Arabic fellow in Amman Jordan (2018-2019) where he studied Formal and Levantine Arabic and worked as a volunteer translator for the International Refugee Assistance Project.