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Building Equity in Objective Prison Classification: A Model for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $599,976)

UMass Chan Medical School and an early career researcher propose this Category 2: W.E.B. Du Bois Fellows project to build a scalable method for achieving racial and ethnic equity in objective prison classification, which investigators intend to disseminate to correctional agencies nationally via a collaboration with the National Institute of Corrections. The project represents a practitioner-researcher partnership supported by meaningful engagement with a multidisciplinary team of correctional practitioners, a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory board comprising individuals who have experienced criminal-legal involvement and social justice scholars, and a national expert in objective prison classification. The goals of this four-year project are to collaborate with the Massachusetts Department of Correction to 1) examine the magnitude and drivers of racial and ethnic disparities in their Objective Point Base Classification System, 2) facilitate adjustments to their classification system to reduce observed tool bias and disparities, and 3) pilot the adjustments to evaluate their differential (or equitable) impact on custody level placements and access to programming, both of which impact length of incarceration. This study will gather both retrospective (N > 20,000) and prospective (N > 3,500) samples of gender-specific initial and reclassification assessments from criminally sentenced individuals to a) quantify disparities in classification decisions and institutional outcomes and b) assess predictive bias by race and ethnicity in classification tools. The analytic plan institutes a comparison of equity metrics (e.g., custody levels, misconduct rates, programming accessibility) and moderated regression models to examine differential predictive validity by race and ethnicity in classification risk estimates (i.e., tool items, specific overrides, and final risk score). Implementation activities include initial installation of a modified classification system in Massachusetts Department of Correction and devising an action plan for full implementation. Findings will culminate in the design of a generalizable Building Equitable Objective Prison Classification Toolkit with a robust dissemination plan to guide correctional agencies nationally to build or improve their existing prison classification systems with an equity lens. The Toolkit will include a step-by-step roadmap for mitigating the drivers of racial and ethnic disparities, gathering and using classification data to analyze disparities, and engaging individuals with lived experience, stakeholders, and researchers to build more equitable practices. These equity efforts and Toolkit will aid correctional agencies in rigorously assessing their classification systems with accessible methods to reduce disparities in individuals’ progress out of the carceral system, while still preserving public safety and institutional security.CA/NCF

Date Created: September 26, 2023