Faculty Research

Faculty members and students are conducting research on a wide range of topics in criminology, including: justice system decision making (such as sentencing); relations of gender, race, and age to crime; violence and victimization; violence and mental disorder, criminal careers; organized crime; deterrence; communities and crime; juvenile delinquency; and evaluation of programs and policies in the justice system.

Faculty and student research has been or is supported by funding from the National Institute of Justice, the National Institutes of Health, The Ford Foundation, the Fulbright program, the National Science Foundation, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Research Projects we are currently Investigating

Eric Baumer

My current research is focused on two general questions. First, why have levels of crime fallen significantly over the past several decades? I am currently engaged in a series of studies with colleagues at Penn State and elsewhere that are directed at different dimensions of this issue, including whether recent shifts in concentrated poverty are associated with crime trends, and whether repeated cross-sectional individual-level data on youth and young adults can yield new insights about the factors associated with contemporary crime reductions. Second, in what ways do selected individual- and community-level conditions affect exposure to crime and decisions to notify the police? This research encompasses several studies, supported by funding from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Russell Sage Foundation (RSF). It integrates restricted-use household- and person-level data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) with neighborhood, city, and county data from a variety of sources to evaluate differences in crime risk and police notification between English and non-English speakers in America, and to assess the impact of a wide variety of community attributes, including neighborhood immigration context and local policing and imprisonment patterns. 

Richard Felson

My current research projects address the following questions: Why are offenders more likely to experience victimization than nonviolent offenders? For example, are offenders more likely to be victimized because they behave more aggressively during their verbal disputes? What are the risk factors for childhood sexual abuse and how do children respond when it occurs? Are rape victims assigned more blame than other victims? How have the characteristics of state inmates changed with the advent of mass incarceration? Does alcohol have a causal effect on adolescent sexual behavior or is the relationship spurious? Why did homicide increase during the Gold Rush in California?

Corina Graif

My current projects focus on two major themes. First, I study the mechanisms underlying neighborhood effects on children and youth’s exposures and involvement in risky behavior and violence, focusing among others on the role of immigration, non-cognitive skills, and institutional network infrastructure. Second, I study how individuals, opportunities, and criminogenic risks move across geographic space and transportation network channels to impact neighborhood social capital and affect inequalities in exposures to poverty, health problems, and violence. I am also working on combining natural experiments (e.g., Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession) with big data science to inform these topics. These projects include work with Census data and ACS, Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, LAFANS, the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Experiment, and Vital records. My research has been supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Science Foundation.

Derek Kreager

I have ongoing projects in two principal research areas. First, I have several projects focused on the experiences of incarceration and community re-entry. Funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, these studies examine topics such as (1) inmate social networks, (2) family visitation, (3) community social integration, and (4) prison substance use treatment. Second, I collaborate as part of the PROSPER Peers (PI: Osgood, funded by NIH) team to examine adolescent social networks and health-risk behaviors. In particular, my research here focuses on adolescent romantic relationships and sexual development.

Holly Nguyen

I am currently engaged in several collaborative research projects. My colleagues and I are conducting surveys with inmates in a Pennsylvania State Correctional Facility to further understand how experiences with, rewards from and perceptions of various income generating activities are related to successful reentry. In another collaborative project (funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council), my colleagues and I are conducting randomized experiments to disentangle the mechanisms of deviant modeling on subsequent deviant behavior. I am also using various sources of secondary data to investigate my three general areas of interest, rewards to crime, groups and crime and illicit drug markets.

Wayne Osgood

My main current research endeavor is the PROSPER Peers Project, which is a study of adolescents’ friendship networks in relation to delinquency and substance use, which is embedded in an evaluation of prevention programs, to which communities were randomly assigned. The study is especially large and long-term, following over 10,000 students from 6th through 9th grades in 27 small school districts in Pennsylvania and Iowa. I lead a large research team that includes faculty members and students here at Penn State and former students and collaborators at several other universities. At last count, the study had yielded 25 published articles (most in leading journals and many with student co-authors), plus several doctoral dissertations.

David Ramey

I am involved in multiple research projects spanning a broad range of topics. I am currently working on a funding proposal for a project examining the diffusion of school accountability, disability, and disciplinary policies over the last half-century. The goals of this project include answering how school and district disciplinary/disability practices responded to changes in legislation over time and across states, whether state legislation and/or district policies influence the use of punishment or the diagnoses of behavior disorders in elementary and middle school children and whether state legislation and school/district policies contribute to racial and socioeconomic disparities in behavior and academic performance. In addition to work on school punishment and medicalization, I am also involved in one other project examining factors associated with the “militarization” of law enforcement using a large dataset containing information on every piece of equipment provided by the U.S. Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 Program, including firearms, uniforms, and vehicles. Moving forward, I hope to examine how police militarization influences police use of force, including responses to protests or civil unrest, widespread violence or perceived violence, and instances of police-involved shootings.

Barry Ruback

As faculty consultant to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, I work with graduate students and Commission staff on projects related to the development and implementation of actuarial risk assessments and on the use of criminal history information at sentencing. In research funded by the National Science Foundation and the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, I have examined the use and impact of economic sanctions (fines, fees, restitution). I also have a longstanding interest in criminal victimization and crime victims’ reporting to the police. Related to this interest is work graduate students and I have done regarding the occurrence and reporting of hate crimes in Pennsylvania.

Eric Silver

Currently, I'm working on papers examining the relationship between people's moral values and their willingness to engage in deviant acts, as well as their endorsement of punitive criminal justice policies and practices.

Jeremy Staff      

I have several ongoing research collaborations on how alcohol use in adolescence undermines short- and longer-term success in school, work, and intimate relationships. For instance, in two recent interdisciplinary projects focusing on the National Child Development Study (NCDS), and funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, my colleagues and I identified risks posed by heavy alcohol use during adolescence for adult attainment, as well as demographic groups for whom heavy drinking is most harmful. More recently, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, we are using longitudinal data from the NCDS, the British Cohort Study, and the Millennium Cohort Study to examine critically the links between alcohol use patterns and health and well-being.

Darrell Steffensmeier

Current research projects include: patterns and correlates of white collar & corporate crime; international assessment of the relation between age and crime; variation in organization of crime by type of crime or illegal market; effects of gender, race, ethnicity, and age on criminal sentencing; and impact of place (neighborhood, community, country) on patterns and levels of crime.

Jeffrey Ulmer

I have several ongoing projects, including: 1) a long-range research agenda focusing on differences between social contexts in court processes and punishment, and inequalities in criminal sentencing at the state and federal levels (partly funded by the National Science Foundation) ; 2) a study of racial and ethnic disparity in Pennsylvania’s death penalty, including prosecutorial discretion to seek it and court decisions to impose it (funded by state and private foundation grants); 3) a study of criminal victimization affecting religious congregations (funded by the National Science Foundation) ; 4) studies of how local religious contexts affect local crime rates and criminal punishment.