UTEP professor takes part in massive study on prison violence

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 Titled “The Sources and Consequences of Prison Violence,” this multi-strategy study spanning three years will delve into the drives and ramifications of violence within correctional institutions in hopes that its finding will help curtail it.

Sasha Minjarez, Contributor

Dr. Melinda Tasca, associate professor of criminal justice at UTEP, is taking part in one of the most comprehensive studies yet on prison violence.

Titled “The Sources and Consequences of Prison Violence,” this multi-strategy study spanning three years will delve into the drives and ramifications of violence within correctional institutions in hopes that its finding will help curtail it.

The study is being funded by Arnold Ventures, a Houston-based philanthropy “driven by the value of investing in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice,” according to its website. The total funding for the project is $2.7 million with a subcontract amounting to about $321,000 awarded to UTEP, which supplements the institution’s grant portfolio and R1 status.

It will utilize data from previous investigation with the intent of diminishing and helping officials intercept violence within prisons.

The execution of the project involves compiling information on the pervasiveness of violence and victimization by prison staff and inmates, while also examining contributing factors and institutional responses to the incidents.

The study’s methodology consists of analyzing administrative records, reviewing incident reports, conducting interviews with staff and inmates, interviewing key correctional administrators and behavioral health professionals, and systematically evaluating staff trainings, policies, and procedures.

“This study will identify the drivers of victimization and violence among incarcerated individuals and staff, and also inform targeted interventions that can be implemented throughout the United States,” Tasca said.

Aside from UTEP, participating institutions include the University of California (UC), Irvine, Florida State University, Iowa State University, and Northeastern University. In addition, correctional experts who work in conjunction with prison systems in seven states, referred to as the “Prison Violence Consortium,” will also be involved. Together, these prisons hold an average of about 300,000 detainees.

The group was founded under the direction of UC Irvine’s Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, professor of criminology, law and society. Over the past decade, Tasca and Rodriguez have worked concurrently on other projects, including a study on the familial impact of parental incarceration and prison visitation.

Tasca came on board as a UTEP faculty member this fall after a six-year stretch at Sam Houston State University’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

“The complexity, scale and scope of this project requires research team members with specialized research expertise. Dr. Tasca has a track record of successfully collaborating with corrections officials and navigating data collection under some of the most difficult situations,” Rodriguez said in a news release.  “Her expertise on the conditions of confinement and work on incarcerated persons and correctional staff make her an ideal team member.” .

Tasca said she is adept in successfully collaborating with prison systems and managing large data collections under challenging circumstances. She’s tasked with arranging, conducting, and overseeing interviews with staff and incarcerated individuals, aside from performing any other required responsibilities pertinent to the study.

“I am honored to be a part of this unprecedented study,” Tasca said. “This project demonstrates how researchers and correctional leaders can come together to better understand and address pressing challenges faced by the workforce and those incarcerated.”

Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected]