Guidelines for conducting meaningful research in local jails.

Author:Chakraborty, Reena

Note: This article originally appeared on and is reprinted here with permission front the National Institute of Justice.

Why is jail-based research needed?

Jails have operated as a fundamental component of the local criminal justice system in this country since its establishment. Although they are a major portal of community reentry for criminal justice-involved populations, little is known about how they operate and what works in these settings. This presents researchers with the opportunity to fill the void and provide useful information and insight to jail practitioners.

What are some specific elements that researchers should address when proposing studies?

The following items detail key elements of successful strategies in proposing and conducting jail-based research:

Include the pretrial population. Ensure the study includes a representative sample of jail inmates, including pretrial detainees, to produce meaningful analysis and insight.

Consider volunteering at the facility before developing a proposal. Gain first-hand understanding of the jail before proposing research. This expedites the process of initiating and completing project tasks once the project commences.

Establish memorandums of understanding with data sources well in advance. Allow at least a year to reach data extraction, matching, and sharing protocols with each agency or organization from which research-related information will be requested.

Establish researcher and practitioner partnerships. Practitioner partnerships help ensure that baseline data for the study population and the jail population as a whole are defined, collected, and available to researchers when the study commences.

Engage in discussions with jail administrators and staff.

This will help create a sound logic model.

-- Seek guidance from the jail executive office (1) and general counsel. Ensure the proposed logic model and protocols satisfy administrative, regulatory, and legal requirements.

-- Address potential impacts on safety, security, and order before finalizing the logic model:

* Include men and women, as well as inmates with non-English primary languages. Inclusiveness will improve the usefulness of information and analysis.

* Develop and use a robust informed-consent form. This prevents delays in collecting study data that include personally protected information.

* Use informational material that is easily understood. Potential participants' ability to read and comprehend may vary...

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