ASU professor receives grant to study risks of contracting COVID-19 in correctional institutions

July 30, 2020

An Arizona State University associate professor of criminology and criminal justice will use a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant to assess risks of COVID-19 infection among incarcerated persons and those who work in correctional institutions.

Danielle Wallace of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ School of Criminology and Criminal Justice said she and her research team will collect data from every federal Bureau of Prisons-run facility and several state correctional institutions over the next several months. Danielle Wallace, associate professor, Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Danielle Wallace, associate professor, Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Download Full Image

It’s likely that enough information will have been compiled within about six months to start modeling what’s occurring in prisons and compiling initial reports by later this year and into the first quarter of 2021, said Wallace, a member of the ASU faculty for 11 years.

The research will be conducted with three approaches, Wallace said:

  • A data-driven dynamic disease model will focus on the timing of COVID-19 infections in the interconnected populations of correctional institutions. Researchers will assess the relative efficacy of potential best practices for infection control, either aimed at the prisoner population and/or the staff population.
  • Researchers will examine the reciprocal relationship between infections and deaths in prisons among prisoners and staff and the geographic communities surrounding the prison.
  • Finally, using return-on-investment (ROI) analysis, researchers will point out potential economic implications of any infection control efforts targeting incarcerated populations.

Wallace said the findings generated from the project should be useful to communities and allow facility officials to collaborate among each other to develop policies to manage infections in these settings, therefore contributing to general health and well-being of prisoners, staff and the larger communities where prisons are located.

Controlling COVID-19 infections in prison is a critical component to “flattening the curve,” as prisons are areas of high risk and high transmission of infectious diseases, Wallace said. Crowded conditions, dining in communal settings, challenges to maintain proper sanitation and the daily entrance and exit of prisons by staff all contribute to this level of risk and transmission of the coronavirus, she said.

Like cruise ships and nursing homes, prisons are high-density locations at risk for heightened spread of the virus. For prisons to evaluate the effectiveness of expenditures to reduce and contain future outbreaks, Wallace said it is important for officials to learn how COVID-19 is spread inside and outside prisons and identify the best policies and strategies to minimize infections.

“The pandemic has changed what life looks like in prisons drastically. Family visitation in many prisons has stopped. The services outside contractors provide have been on put on hold in many prisons,” Wallace said. “We hope that our research can help prisons and other close-quarter facilities get back to normal operations as safely and as fast as possible.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Empowering the community in marine policy

ASU PhD student named John A. Knauss Marine Policy finalist

July 30, 2020

Introduced by her friends as “the ocean person,” Katherine Ball has spent much of her life near the water. When she was 10 years old, her grandmother gave her “Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion,” a book about oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and his marine debris study. It was then that Ball knew she wanted a career related to ocean studies.

“I get so excited about the ocean,” said Ball, a Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology PhD student at Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “Everyone knows that if they can't think of a present to buy me, find something cool and ocean-related. My favorite animals are squids and octopuses.” Katherine Ball. Download Full Image

Ball’s passion for the ocean is now taking her to Washington, D.C. She has been named a finalist for the 2021 class of the Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program

The fellowship places graduate students in federal government offices in Washington, where they will learn about and help shape national policy decisions affecting ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. The fellowship is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program, which works to create a healthy coastal environment and economy, and bring science and communities together to conserve coastal resources.

“I’m looking forward to networking and learning more about how the government works and operates,” Ball said. “I want to pursue a government position after I earn my doctorate, so this allows me to test the waters.”

Working in policy wasn’t always Ball’s goal. When she started her bachelor’s degree in oceanography, she intended to study marine debris and plastics. But she didn’t want a career that would have her sitting behind a computer all day. She wanted to be more involved in conducting research and getting communities engaged, so she steered her studies to policy.

“I started getting into citizen science,” Ball said. “How do we engage people with scientific issues through the use of technology, participation and research? How can communities make changes at the local scale? How can people concerned about their beaches get their local government to pass policy that helps them?”

For someone interested in ocean studies, Arizona may seem like an unusual choice. But when Ball participated in the ASU Citizen Science Maker Summit in 2016, she knew that ASU was where she wanted to study policy further.

“I was drawn to the (school's) attitude toward communities,” Ball said. “Communities are valuable; we need their input.”

Her research has focused on community empowerment. During her undergrad, she designed a prototype sensor that members of the public could use to study microplastics in the ocean. And for her master’s thesis, she developed a board game to educate people about helium. Both projects are still being used and impacting communities.

Ball is currently working as a graduate research associate and also developing her second-year research project. She is looking at how federal agencies perceive, value and govern Alaska’s oceans and whether there is a disconnect between agencies based in Washington, D.C., and their regional offices in Alaska. 

“Someone from Washington, D.C., who has never been to Alaska, will most likely understand the relationship between place and native cultures differently than someone who lives there and knows the place personally.”

Ball wants to improve public participation in marine policy and find ways for communities to be better engaged with government.

“I want to interact with people and understand how projects will impact them. I want to bring their voices into decision making.”

Ball will learn her placement for the Knauss fellowship this October, and her fellowship will begin in February.

Ashley Richards

Communications Specialist , School for the Future of Innovation in Society