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Tasca earns prestigious National Institute of Justice award

November 02, 2016

HUNTSVILLE, TX (10-19-16) -- Melinda Tasca received the prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice to investigate racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the use of restrictive housing in correctional facilities.

Tasca of Sam Houston State University and Jillian Turanovic of Florida State University were awarded the competitive fellowship that is designed to advance the study of race and crime by scholars, early in their careers, and provide the opportunity to elevate their research to a level of national discussion. The study, which uses data on 40,000 inmates released by a state prison system between 2011 and 2014, will determine racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in placements into restrictive housing, placement into specific types of units, reasons for placement, and the length of time spent in restrictive housing.

"I feel honored and privileged to have received this award," said Tasca, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. "This fellowship provides us with support to carry out this important research, which will provide a better understanding of criminal justice decision-making within the correctional setting and also inform policy and practice."

The study follows on the heels of a U.S. Department of Justice report that provides "guiding principles" for all correctional systems on the use of restrictive housing. Among the 50 recommendations in the report are:
  • Inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting necessary
  • Specific reasons should be articulated for placement in restrictive housing
  • Restrictive housing should serve specific penological purposes
  • Correctional systems should establish standing committees to review restrictive housing policies regularly, and a multi-disciplinary staff commission should be empaneled to review these placements at each facility
  • A clear plan should be developed to return inmates to less restrictive settings
  • Correctional staff should receive regular training in restrictive housing policies
  • Inmates should not be directly released from restrictive housing to the community
  • Correctional systems should find ways to increase the time inmates in restrictive housing spend outside their cells

President Barack Obama made restrictive housing a cornerstone of his criminal justice reform agenda. Inmates placed into restrictive housing units are not only isolated from the general population, but also have limited contact with family and friends, and are restricted from recreational, educational, and vocational opportunities. There are several types of restrictive housing, including those used for disciplinary, administrative, mental health, medical, and protective custody purposes.

The study will be completed in 2017 and is expected to result in academic papers, a policy brief, and a final report with specific recommendations regarding the use of restrictive housing in correctional settings.

Sam Houston State University

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