This week marks the launch of the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank and policy advocacy organization focused on finding evidence-based solutions that increase safety and justice.

 Founded by Adam Gelb, previously head of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, the Council’s innovative and expert members will join by invitation only. Membership is intended to reflect the many diverse perspectives within the criminal justice community, including former policymakers; researchers and academic leaders in the field; journalists; law enforcement, courts, and corrections professionals; advocates; victims of crime; and formerly incarcerated individuals. The Council will form ad hoc task forces to study and recommend model policies that will support a fair and effective criminal justice system.

The Council’s mission is to elucidate criminal justice policy problems facing the country and make progress on solving these problems with solutions that are based on facts, data, and fundamental principles of justice.

At GSD, we support this mission. In our work with law enforcement, victims of crime, neglected youth, and other vulnerable populations, we answer our research questions by collecting and analyzing data and using rigorous evaluation methods. By using both our collected data and other publicly available data sources, our knowledge of and practical solutions for problems of social and criminal justice can grow at an enormous rate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually violent contact affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men in the United States. However, only 23% of these incidents are reported to law enforcement, and of these, less than 1% of cases are referred to prosecutors. A study sponsored by the Pentagon and conducted at West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy found that the number of unreported sexual assaults had surged by nearly 50% to 747 incidents in the 2017-2018 academic year, compared to 507 incidents in 2015-2016.

Although a victim’s decision whether or not to report sexual assault to law enforcement is often individualized and deeply personal, studies have found that multiple factors may contribute to non-reporting, including the fear of retaliation; shame or embarrassment, particularly among male victims; concerns about confidentiality; and fear of not being believed. Research conducted with 4,500 college-age women who were victim-survivors of rape or sexual assault found that they were more likely to report to law enforcement authorities when the victims perceived their sexual assaults as “more believable,” such as when the assailant was a stranger or when a weapon was present. To integrate a modern example of victims’ reluctance to talk about their experiences, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stated in her opening address to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation process of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh: “I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. I did not want to tell my parents that I, at age 15, was in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys.”

The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) reports that 1 in 5 American women have experienced a rape or attempted rape.  Racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable. Nearly half (49.5%) of multiracial women and American Indian/Alaska Native women (45%) are subjected to some form of sexually violent contact in their lifetime. Yet, research has also found that minority women are significantly less likely to report their assault. Stigma and shame (manifested as embarrassment, self-blame, and/or fear of public scrutiny) play key roles in the under-reporting of sexual assault among minority women. However, it’s possible that recent social shifts may be able to help encourage more women to come forward.

Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the entity responsible for making and enforcing laws around discrimination in the workplace – published a an interim report that announced preliminary data on the formal sexual harassment/discrimination claims that were reported to the Commission in 2018. Astonishingly, of those lawsuits filed by the EEOC on behalf of employees who reported discrimination, there was a 50 percent increase in suits reporting sexual harassment. While evidence has not confirmed the impact that the #MeToo movement has had on reporting, the EEOC’s Acting Chair, Victoria Lipnic, called out the movement as part of the increase in demand in engaging with the EEOC, stating: "I am so proud of the EEOC staff who stepped up to the heightened demand of the #MeToo movement to make clear that workplace harassment is not only unlawful, it is simply not acceptable." Although workplace harassment is not equivalent to sexual assault, harassment contributes to a culture that diminishes and sexualizes victims. Particularly in a closed workplace environment like the military, where women are a minority, incidents of harassment can quickly escalate to threats of physical and sexual violence.

The impact of the #MeToo movement is too early to be known. It is critical that research is conducted to understand the outcomes of the movement on: (1) reporting of an incident of sexual assault to law enforcement, school personnel, and/or campus security; (2) any change in demographics or characteristics of the victims who report; (3) the number of sexual assault cases that result in prosecution; (4) victims’ perceptions on their experiences with the criminal justice system; (5) criminal justice stakeholders’ (e.g., law enforcement, prosecutors, etc.) response to reported cases; (6) any change to the public and/or media response to sexual assault cases; and finally, (7) the impact the movement has on overall sexual assault rates across the United States.

This guest post was authored by Laura Spearman.

Laura Spearman is a graduate from American University’s School of Public Affairs with a B.A in Justice and Law. She has assisted on reentry initiatives and stakeholder dialogues combating the current penal justice system at the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution. Laura was a part of the flagship team for the American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center under the direction of Dr. Ibram Kendi. Currently, her professional goals surround the employability of disenfranchised groups including the formerly incarcerated. 

Last fall, GSD published our first white paper – An Overview of the US Catholic Church Child Abuse Scandal. In the paper, we discussed the importance of several key steps for the Church: acknowledging the damage inflicted on victims; implementing key changes to prevent additional abuse; the need for openness and transparency on the part of the Catholic Church; and finally, the prioritization of services for victims who have come forward to tell their stories.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis made a public statement about the sexual abuse of nuns, an often-overlooked population of victims. While cases of sexual abuse or assault have been reported in US churches or orders, this is a worldwide problem. Nuns have come forward in India, the Philippines, several African countries, Chile, and other developing countries. A 2001 report by the Federation of St. Scholastica, a group of 20 monasteries of Benedictine women, lists incidents from 23 total countries. The problem is particularly pervasive in Africa, where the HIV crisis allows celibate women, such as nuns, to be perceived as “safe” targets for sexual activity. However, it is difficult to collect accurate statistics on how widespread the problem may be. Nuns are reluctant to come forward, knowing that their reports have the potential to smear the Church’s reputation.

Pope Francis’s remarks were made just two weeks before a scheduled conference of bishops at the Vatican to discuss the larger problems of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Plans for the conference include training bishops to detect signs of abuse, to hold each other and their priests accountable, to intervene appropriately in cases of abuse, and how to listen to victims—including children, the elderly, and seminarians (priests in training).

Given the pope’s decision to call attention to the crisis of sexual assault and abuse committed against nuns, we believe it would be prudent to extend this planned training to include nuns as victims. Sisters are often placed in vulnerable positions when they are given their first assignments after leaving the convent. When sent abroad, they may not have appropriate language or cultural skills and can lack support networks, which forces them to turn to seminarians or priests for assistance, creating the potential for abuse. It is important that their exploitation is taken seriously and steps are taken to protect them.

In 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – the data collection arm for USDOJ – published recidivism results after tracking more than 400,000 state prisoners released in 2005; BJS reported that, on average, more than 4 out of 5 individuals were rearrested over the 9-year study period between 2005 and 2014, and of those, 44% were rearrested within the first year.

In response to the growing need for criminal justice reform, various types of reentry programs have been created to help meet the needs of formerly incarcerated individuals.  Program objectives vary widely, from assisting formerly incarcerated individuals with continuing or completing their education, seeking work, finding affordable housing, reconnecting with family, providing substance abuse and mental health services or therapy, or combinations of these and other components.  However, because many of these initiatives are not even a decade old, some programs have yet to be evaluated to understand effectiveness in empowering individuals’ autonomy and preventing rearrest and reincarceration.  GSD is committed to working with these reentry programs that want to determine what elements of their programs work, for what audiences, and in what conditions.

One of GSD’s partners in this goal is Refoundry, an innovative non-profit organization founded in 2015 that serves the formerly incarcerated, with a goal of zero recidivism buoyed by long-term financial independence. Refoundry's paid program has three “off-ramps,” and focuses on craft, commerce, and entrepreneurship, culminating in business incubation for those who complete the full 12-month track. In two pilots, Refoundry entrepreneurs launched 10 businesses that employ 125 people from their home communities; no one who participated in the program returned to prison.  In addition, no pilot program participants currently use any form of public support. Refoundry calculates that its graduates save taxpayers an estimated $100,000 per year per program participant. 

Refoundry takes a holistic approach to reintegration. In addition to ongoing mental health and substance abuse referrals, the first three-month track is front-loaded with instruction on internet and financial literacy, cognitive value construction, business principles, and targeted resume-building and interview skills.  This track also trains participants to re-purpose discarded materials into unique home furnishings, which they sell; proceeds from the sales of goods and services throughout the program cover costs of participant salary and benefits. Should participants continue on in the program, they have opportunities to learn additional business and career development skills and eventually own and operate their own small business.  

Refoundry's goal is to provide formerly incarcerated individuals a pathway to become leaders and job-providers.  Refoundry’s innovative program then enlists the support of its participants and graduates to both define the desired outcomes, as well as to provide data from their personal experience on the short- and long-term efficacy of program.  

GSD looks forward to supporting Refoundry and other reentry programs to improve the outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals, upon their release.

To learn more about Refoundry, visit their website at:

To support Refoundry, shop AmazonSmile or donate on their website.

Law enforcement officers first began experimenting with body-worn cameras (BWCs) or body-worn video in 2005 in the United Kingdom. Their use in the United States expanded more slowly; in a survey conducted in August 2013, only 25 percent of law enforcement agencies indicated that they had deployed BWCs or video technology for their officers. Since then, however, the use of BWCs in US law enforcement agencies has exploded. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly half (47%) of general-purpose law enforcement agencies had acquired BWCs for their officers by 2016, primarily for reasons such as improving officer safety, increasing the quality of evidence, reducing civilian complaints, and reducing agency liability.

Research-based evidence on the effects of BWCs can vary according to the community, pre-established community trust in law enforcement, and the type of law enforcement agency involved in the research. A 2014 study randomly assigned nearly 1,000 officers to an experimental group in which the officers were equipped with BWCs that recorded their contacts with the public or a control group, in which officers did not wear a BWC. Officers in the control group (not wearing BWCs) were twice as likely to be involved in use-of-force incidents than officers in the experimental group (wearing body cameras). Furthermore, officers wearing body cameras experienced a drop in civilian complaints from 0.7 per 1,000 public contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts. However, other studies have found fewer encouraging effects when officers are permitted to turn their cameras on/off at their own discretion. A 2016 study conducted with over 2,000 patrol officers in eight different departments, examining more than two million officer-hours, found that use-of-force rates increased 71 percent when officers did not comply with departmental protocols and chose when to turn their BWCs on or off.

Given the relative newness of this technology, many law enforcement agencies have not yet implemented BWCs. Among agencies that have not yet purchased BWCs, they cite reasons such as costs and privacy concerns—for both officers and civilians. Indeed, the costs of maintaining BWCs, training officers on their use, and storing BWC video footage have often been overlooked when it comes to public support for BWCs. In addition to the base cost of purchasing the camera equipment, costs to agencies include ancillary equipment such as tablets or computers that allow officers to tag or identify data in the field; data storage and management; officer training; and camera program administration. A 2014 report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) estimated that the average agency spends between $800 and $1,200 for each BWC device, with some agencies spending up to $2,000 per camera. However, the most expensive aspect of a BWC program is data storage. While the costs of data storage depend on how many videos are stored, the file sizes, the length of time the files are stored, and how many videos are produced (i.e., the number of sworn officers wearing BWCs), individual agencies are responsible for finding a data management solution. Whether agencies choose a cloud-based third-party data vendor or an in-house server, the solution must be both secure and easily searchable. Agencies also often underestimate the amount of time staff may need to spend combing through videos for relevant or important data or responding to requests for video clips from the public.

As an example of the struggle faced by large law enforcement agencies, Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department generates a thousand hours of video footage per day. Only 40 percent can be deleted within 90 days, while the rest is required to be stored for months, years, or decades depending on statutes of limitations. When the New Orleans Police Department implemented its BWC program, it set aside $1.2 million over five years to outfit 350 officers, with the majority of its budget going to data management. Some law enforcement agencies simply cannot afford these administrative costs. A recent article by the Washington Post notes an annual cost of $20,000 (for both cameras and data storage) for a small agency near Chicago with only 17 sworn officers. Similarly, a small agency in Nebraska with only five officers faced rising annual costs of $15,000 after a state law required video to be stored for at least 90 days. Large or medium-sized suburban agencies such as Arlington County, Virginia, and Madison, Wisconsin also encounter hundreds of thousands of dollars for their BWC programs.

Although many police chiefs argue that BWCs can increase public trust and reduce the number of public complaints, the monetary costs of BWC programs remain unfeasible for agencies across the country. Through various sources of funding, the federal government has granted over $40 million to individual agencies for BWCs and data storage over the last five years, with state and local governments contributing additional funding. Before committing more federal dollars to BWCs, we advise conducting more research to establish the conditions under which BWCs are effective, as well as the cost-benefit ratio for agencies to opt in, depending on the conditions of their jurisdiction. Other research may include assessing what agencies can do to cut costs, such as identifying the optimal time data should be stored or if there are lower-cost data management solutions available. Because BWCs are a fairly new technology, with potentially controversial impacts on public privacy, criminal prosecution, and the rights of victims, more research will help establish the necessity of BWCs for different types of agencies (e.g., suburban, rural, or urban; large or small agency; or any pre-existing issues between the agency and the community, just to name a few) and provide more guidance on effective standards and departmental protocols that protect both officers and the public.

Even in states with high health care coverage rates, residents still struggle to find quality care for behavioral and mental health care issues.

According to the Massachusetts Health Reform Survey conducted by the Urban Institute and Social Science Research Solutions among residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 96% of adults reported having some form of health insurance in 2018, with 88% maintaining their health care coverage through the year. However, the majority of adults surveyed (55%) also reported that they had difficulty accessing health care benefits for the treatment of behavioral and/or mental health illnesses/disorders. Affordability is a concern for patients too. More than a third (36%) of Massachusetts residents who had sought care for mental health or substance abuse disorders also reported difficulty paying off their medical bills. 

The state of Texas, by contrast, has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation, and faces similar struggles to address residents’ mental health needs. Approximately 4.5 million Texans did not have health care coverage in 2016, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. On Friday, a Texas federal district court judge declared the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional. The ruling is not expected to affect the fate of Texans obtaining health care coverage through the federal government in 2019 (for which the deadline was Saturday, December 15), but it could be unfortunate for the state if it stalled progress on decreasing the number of uninsured Texans. Between 2013 and 2016, 1.2 million people living in Texas gained insurance following implementation of the ACA. Introducing doubt and change could put added strain an already stressed system. A report released in 2017 by the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health described budget cuts, hospital closures, and shortages in nurses, psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists, noting that mental health is “one of the most critical areas of concern” facing the state.

Access to mental health services is a widespread problem. People with mental illnesses are generally less likely to have health insurance than those without mental health problems. Researchers have calculated that the odds of having health insurance are as much as 40% lower for people with serious psychological distress (SPD) than those without SPD. Patients can also be reluctant to seek help; the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 2 in 5 people, or 40%, of those experiencing a mood disorder or symptoms of anxiety or substance abuse seek assistance within one year of the onset of indications.  

According to the 2016 National Drug Use and Health Survey, 16.2 million adults over the age of 18 expressed a major depressive episode (MDE) in 2016, but 10.6 million (65%) received treatment for depression. Among adolescents, only 41% received treatment for depression after a depressive episode. Racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to being overlooked for treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that African Americans and Hispanic Americans receive treatment at half the rate of Caucasians.   

Mental health disorders are one of the most common health problems people face. Currently, 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental illness of some kind, and one in four people will face mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, according to the WHO. In the United States alone, nearly 44 million adults experience mental illness in a given year.

Left untreated, mental illnesses lead to difficulties dealing with the stresses of daily life and may require more extreme and intensive forms of treatment. As we continue to tie mental health to other, critical issues such as an increasing prison population, gun control, crime, and substance use and abuse, it is crucial that we prioritize access and affordability of treatment.

A recent, growing debate within the criminal justice system is the introduction of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) into correctional facilities, especially jails in rural areas.

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended its regulatory authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, and dissolvables that did not previously fall under the FDA’s authority. Yet it is important to note that the harms of e-cigarettes versus traditional cigarettes remains an ongoing debate. While advocates claim that e-cigarettes offer a “healthier” option for smokers because they do not contain cancer-producing tars, detractors argue that e-cigs might be just as harmful or more. Nicotine is highly addictive and flavored e-cigarettes contain a chemical called diacetyl, which has been linked to a rare type of lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. This lung cancer can cause permanent damage to the bronchioles, which are tiny airways in the lungs.

The debate extends beyond medical ramifications.  Some correctional officers and sheriffs believe that the introduction of e-cigarettes into their correctional facilities have alleviated tension and violence among inmates, improving conditions and safety for both officers and inmates. Yet other officers contend that nicotine is an addictive culprit that leads its users through vicious cycles of addiction and relapse.

This disparity of viewpoints is evidence that – in addition to more medical research – more social science research is needed. Indeed, further examination may help us understand whether abuse of power is imminent from using e-cigarettes as a tool for punishment, whether price gouging by private enterprise on this vulnerable population should be tolerated, or even whether the introduction of a highly valued commodity may evolve into a new form of barter and exchange. Either way, one thing remains clear to GSD: without the arduous process of objective factual research we are left where we began – in hyperbole and speculation.