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Odum Takes Part in Leading Criminal Justice Research

By: Alana Edwards

Dr. Gary Cuddeback leads criminal justice research with help from Odum's survey research group
Gary Cuddeback, Ph.D., M.S.W., M.P.H., is an associate professor at the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill with appointments at the Department of Psychiatry and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

The Odum Institute for Research in Social Science contributes to innovative criminal justice research in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based criminal justice policy research organization.

About the Research Project

The Vera Institute is the Principal Investigator on the project, which receives funding from the National Institute of Justice. Gary Cuddeback, Ph.D, M.S.W., M.P.H., of the UNC School of Social Work leads survey research for the initiative with help from Teresa Edwards, assistant director for survey research at the Odum Institute.

The project examines the wellbeing of correctional officers who work in restrictive housing units, sometimes called administrative segregation or isolation. Unlike existing studies, this one focuses on the effect of working in restrictive housing units on officers rather than the impact of living in restrictive housing on inmates.

It aims to increase correctional officer safety and wellbeing by understanding organizational culture and climate as well as the effects of working in various housing units. Improving officers’ working environments may present potential benefits for both officers and inmates.

The Research Methodology

The study includes three states: North Carolina, Oregon and Missouri. In each state, the research consists of four primary activities, including: An officer survey; focus groups; interviews with administrators; site visits and observations of restricted housing units. The Odum Institute is heavily involved in the officer surveys.

Dr. Cuddeback will obtain survey responses from 200-400 correctional officers, and estimates that he has distributed approximately 8,000 study flyers through the prisons here in North Carolina. The qualitative interviews and focus groups will give context to the quantitative survey results.

Data collection within the criminal justice system is challenging and time-consuming. Researchers must build trust and relationships in addition to obtaining institutional review board approval. In August, the Odum Institute and the Vera Institute started collecting data from North Carolina, and have just begun to do so in Oregon and Missouri. Data collection from all three states is expected to run through the end of 2019.

Moving Forward

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) has been a helpful and engaged research partner in the project, says Dr. Cuddeback. In collaboration with the Vera Institute, he plans to share the study’s findings and recommendations with NCDPS as soon as the reports are available. The work of the Odum Institute and Dr. Cuddeback in partnership with the Vera Institute may have implications for improving administrative segregation protocols in NC and across the U.S.

“What excites me about projects like this one is the opportunity to help both the criminal justice system and those who are in it,” says Dr. Gary Cuddeback. “It’s one of those institutions that isn’t ever going to go away, most likely, so we need to figure out how to make it better for those who work in it and those who are affected by it.”


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