Newswise — EL PASO, Texas – The University of Texas at El Paso’s Melinda Tasca, Ph.D., is participating in the most comprehensive study ever into the causes and effects of prison violence. Researchers expect their findings to enhance institutional culture and safety within prisons.

Tasca, associate professor of criminal justice, is among the principal investigators of “The Sources and Consequences of Prison Violence,” a three-year, multi-strategy investigation. It involves multiple academic institutions and the state prison systems of Texas, Ohio, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. On any given day, these prison systems hold approximately 300,000 inmates. 

The research team, made up of internationally recognized correctional experts, will work with prison system representatives to create a thorough empirical assessment into the nature, causes and effects of prison violence. Among the research methods used will be an analysis of administrative records, review of incident reports, interviews with people affected by the violence and key correctional and behavioral health professionals, as well as a systematic evaluation of policies, procedures and staff training.

Tasca said her primary responsibility is to plan, conduct and oversee interviews in 23 participating prisons across the seven states. She also will work with the research team to develop processes and results that will advance science, policy and practice.

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

The research team hypothesized that their collected data would identify why some inmates and staff are victimized and offer possible interventions that can be instituted nationally.

Arnold Ventures, a Houston, Texas-based philanthropy, awarded the $2.7 million grant that will fund the study. Almost $321,000 of that will go to UTEP.

Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, will lead the project. She said she is fortunate to be able to work with an amazing research team to include Tasca, whom she has known more than 10 years.

Rodriguez said she and Tasca have collaborated on various projects to include studies on the effect of parental incarceration on families and prison visitation. She called the UTEP professor “highly respected” in her field, and a dedicated producer of high-quality research that often enlightens correctional policy.

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

Leanne F. Alarid, Ph.D., UTEP’s chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, said the University was fortunate to have recruited Tasca recently from Sam Houston State University, which has one of the country’s top criminal justice programs.

“With this prestigious grant from Arnold Ventures, Dr. Tasca already is contributing to maintaining UTEP’s R1 (very high research activity) status,” Alarid said. “She just arrived in El Paso and already has hit the ground running.”

The University of Texas at El Paso is one of the largest and most successful Hispanic-serving institutions in the country, with a student body that is over 80% Hispanic. It enrolls more than 25,000 students in 166 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in 10 colleges and schools. With more than $100 million in total annual research expenditures, UTEP is ranked in the top 5% of research institutions nationally and fifth in Texas for federal research expenditures at public universities.

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