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Communities that experience the most violence are often those with the highest rates of incarceration, and they see how prison fails to ensure community safety. People in these communities live with the damage caused by there being so many people cycling in and out of jail and prison, particularly its deleterious effects on families and children. Even some law enforcement officials acknowledge that we must reimagine public safety and community health, reallocate funds from the criminal justice system to services that promote public safety and more effectively address the conditions that create poverty, inequality, and community distress. Effective violence prevention should also acknowledge how trauma and exposure to violence can lead to more violence, perpetuating a cycle that weakens communities and can cause people victimized by crime to commit crimes themselves.

Yet, for the past 50 years, many lawmakers have asserted their commitment to curbing violence through increasingly harsh penalties on people who commit violent offenses. At the same time, they have failed to invest in strategies shown to proactively stop crime and violence (as well as human trafficking) from occurring in the first place. Cities across the US that have soaring rates of violent crime continue to cut funding for proven violence prevention programs. And programs that provide restorative and therapeutic services in prisons struggle to secure the financing they need to reach people serving the longest terms. Lawmakers should demonstrate their commitment to public safety by investing in science-based and evidence-based policies and practices, rather than doubling down on reactive, unproven solutions.

Based on what you have learned in this class and from your previous classwork, you are tasked with offering science-based principles to guide decision-making in the criminal justice system to forge a better path forward. To begin, locate a specific problem that is related to one of the chapters in Jacinta Gau?s Book ?Criminal Justice Policy: Origins and Consequences? that you wish to explore in-depth. Next, gather research findings from science journals, books, and reputable research institutes and use what you learn to understand the problem, its causes, and alternative policy solutions. Lastly, use the research and scientific evidence to advise policymakers on criminal justice policy decisions in the area that you have decided to investigate.

Requirements and Overview of the Research Paper

Your capstone research paper will be written as a policy report. It must be between 4,000 words and 5,000 words in length (and this includes the title page and the reference pages). Your research paper/policy report needs to be double-spaced with 1.0-inch margins and using a 12-point Times New Roman font. Your policy report must be based entirely on published research (and not your opinion or non-scholarly opinions).

For this project, you will examine policies through a critical, social-scientific, empirical lens, and producing an action-oriented policy report targeting policymakers and agency executives (e.g., chiefs of police). It will serve the purpose of informing policymakers and agency executives on what they can do to improve on what scholars and many people in communities of color call the ?criminal injustice system.? Thus, your policy report will include several in-text cites referencing journal articles, books, book chapters, and reports from reputable agencies such as the Vera Institute, the Prison Policy Initiative, the Sentencing Project, and government agencies, such as the Department of Justice.

To illustrate how you might proceed: Existing drug policy still adheres to the tenets of the ?war on drugs? and, as such, is more oriented toward enforcement than toward prevention and treatment. Enforcement-based strategies are, by themselves, limited in their overall effectiveness. Drug courts have become significant players in the fight against drugs, but enforcement remains the focal point of policy efforts. Racial disparities in prison populations have been attributed to the war on drugs and accompanying determinant sentencing structures. Yet, policymakers have been reluctant to alter sentencing schemes or legislation that flatly prohibits the sale, possession, and use of drugs. If this were your focus (or topic of investigation), you would review the evidence about the effectiveness of enforcement-based and treatment-based efforts, as well as the relative cost-effectiveness of each, and recommend to a policymaking audience what strategies, practices, and programs should be adopted. As a final note, you need to view ?effectiveness? in broad terms that include issues of justice, fairness, and what are known as ?collateral consequences,? and not just in terms of reducing or preventing crime.

The Structural Elements of the Capstone Policy Report

Policy reports directly reflect the different roles that the policy analyst commonly plays, i.e., from researcher to advocate. The type of report that you are writing is one from the more action-oriented, advocacy end of the continuum (but that is nevertheless based purely on evidence and not your opinion). Although there is much variation even at this end of the scale, the most common elements of the policy report are as follows (**Your Capstone Research Paper must include all seven headings**):

Title Page
Executive Summary
Context and the Importance of the Problem
Pre-Exiting Policies, Policy Alternatives, and Research
Policy Recommendations