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ASU professor wins criminal justice research award

ASU criminology professor Kevin Wright
December 09, 2013

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences announced that the 2014 Donal MacNamara Award for Outstanding Journal Publication will be given to ASU criminologist Kevin Wright and co-authors for an article that focused on two different approaches to explaining why ex-offenders re-offend. The award is given to scholarship that provides thoughtful analysis and novel treatment of a topic published in Justice Quarterly, Journal of Criminal Justice Education or ACJS Today.

The article, "The Importance of Ecological Context for Correctional Rehabilitation Programs: Understanding the Micro- and Macro-Level Dimensions of Successful Offender Treatment," was written by Kevin Wright, Travis Pratt, Christopher Lowenkamp and Edward Latessa, and published in Justice Quarterly in June 2012. 

"In our paper, we brought together two different approaches to explaining why ex-offenders re-offend," said Wright, an assistant professor in the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College of Public Programs at the ASU downtown campus.

The article examined community approaches that argue conditions of an area, such as concentrated disadvantage, negatively influence re-offending. It also looked at individual approaches to reducing recidivism that suggest ex-offenders have their own risks and resiliencies that impact re-offending.

"It is nice to see the field recognize the merit in bringing these two approaches together rather than consider them as separate or competing ideas," Wright said.

The team focused on parolees who had been sent to 38 halfway house programs in Ohio a decade ago. Data to determine effectiveness was obtained by site visits and information from the Community Corrections Information System, National Crime and Information Center, record checks and recidivism data from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Neighborhood characteristics were obtained by utilizing traditional concentrated disadvantage variables collected in the 1990 and 2000 US Decennial Censuses.

Ex-offenders often return to neighborhoods that may increase their chances of getting in trouble with the law.

"Even the most well thought-out offender rehabilitation programs may fail if the individuals completing them are then returning to neighborhoods marked by poverty, few opportunities for gainful employment and a strong presence of deviant peers," said Wright.  

The research found the condition of the neighborhood played a role in the success of the halfway house programs.

"Disadvantaged neighborhoods mean lower quality treatment programs," Wright said. "And these are the neighborhoods where quality rehabilitation programs are needed the most."

At the time of the research, one finding that stood out to Wright was the success of offenders sent to halfway houses in immigrant neighborhoods. Some classical crime theories suggest a correlation between increases in crime and increases in immigration, a notion that Wright says has been disproved in recent times.

"Once I started reading the more recent immigration and crime literature, I discovered that our findings should not have been unexpected: in most cases immigration is either unrelated to crime or leads to a decrease in crime," said Wright. "This led to another paper with my colleague, Nancy Rodriguez, where we found this protective effect of immigration on re-offending to be true for previously arrested youth in Arizona."

Joining Wright on the article was Travis Pratt, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University; Christopher Lowenkamp, a probation administrator for the Administrative Office of the US Courts, Office of Probation and Pretrial Services; and Edward J. Latessa, a professor and director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati.   

Wright credits his colleagues and students at ASU for creating the atmosphere to conduct significant research.

"I am lucky to be surrounded by brilliant and supportive colleagues at ASU, as well as talented students at both the undergraduate and graduate level," Wright said. "Consistent with the approach of our article, this award is as much a product of that environment as it is of any individual effort."