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Catalyzing community efforts to eliminate disparities & propel justice system change

The Research & Action Center at Impact Justice catalyzes community efforts to improve outcomes for those impacted by the justice system.

The Research & Action Center team firmly believes that creating a more humane and restorative system of justice is imperative, not just for the millions of people directly impacted, but for our entire society. That’s why we partner with community service providers, government agencies, and key stakeholders across the country to research, evaluate, and support implementation of the most effective and innovative practices. We recognize the ways in which intersecting layers of marginalization can compound adverse system impacts. This recognition leads us to center the experiences of those most impacted in our work. Throughout every stage of the research process, the Research & Action Center maintains a critical focus on racial and ethnic disparities and the impacts of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The Problem

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. There are more than 2 million people incarcerated in US prisons and jails. Another 4.5 million people are entangled in the justice system through community supervision (probation, parole, house arrest, etc.). These figures are now well known.

U.S. Incarcerated Population

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Prisoner Statistics (NPS), 2016

The attention paid to this critical and defining issue in recent years has led to positive change. Since 2009, the prison population has decreased steadily — but far too slowly. The decarceration trends observed over the last decade have also demonstrated the vital need for further reform, as well as for the funding and widespread integration of effective community-based practices.

Although incarceration rates have decreased, disparities rooted in race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual expression persist. A systemic lack of investment in communities has left those most impacted by mass incarceration also most in need of access to high-quality education, vocational training, treatment centers, affordable housing, and work opportunities.

Men's Incarceration Rate per 100,000 U.S. Residents
Women's Incarceration Rate per 100,000 U.S. Residents

*Includes American Indians and Alaska Natives; Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders; and persons of two or more races. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Prisoner Statistics (NPS), 2016.

Incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color. The above chart illustrates that Black men are six times as likely as white men, and Black women are twice as likely as white women, to be incarcerated in state or federal prison. Native American women, in particular, are disproportionately affected by incarceration and are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women.

Although we also know that incarceration disproportionately affects Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming individuals, the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not publish data on these disparities.

The process of dismantling a broken system to create new opportunities, foster healing, and restore justice, must take root in the stories, vision, and ideas of those most impacted. This is where our work begins.

The Research & Action Center’s Approach

The Research & Action Center team believes the best solutions come from those closest to the problem. We approach our research as a tool to elevate the voices, expertise and solutions of those most impacted by our current carceral system. We prioritize fostering strong relationships at every stage of our process. We have worked effectively with a variety of community-based service providers, youth and adults impacted by the system, public defenders, judges, district attorneys, the defense bar, and probation departments.

Our work spans from local to multisite, multistate projects. We are known for our capacity to perform sophisticated research and evaluation, target interventions and recommendations to best practice standards, and work effectively with communities and other key stakeholders.

Some of our projects include:

  • LA Model Diversion: Collaborating with key stakeholders in Los Angeles County to compile key recommendations for the LA County Board of Supervisors to reduce youth involvement in the criminal justice system. Recommendations were approved and are undergoing implementation.
  • EBP+ Collaborative: Partnering to implement a mixed-methods longitudinal evaluation of 12 community-based organizations across the country, which serve formerly incarcerated youth by supporting healing and elevating youth leadership. In partnership with the RAC, these 12 organizations, known as the EBP+ Collaborative, published a groundbreaking brief in March 2018 on their shared vision and approach.
  • Positive Youth Justice Initiative Partnership: Training formerly incarcerated youth in Oakland to conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews, and analysis. Their research served to inform the community, as well as political candidates, on key issues related to sentencing and incarceration of youth during the election of the Alameda County District Attorney.
  • Men and Trauma Research Project: Conducting an in-depth analysis of the effects of trauma on incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men. Through this work, we aim to transform the broader narratives around violent offenders, and highlight the truly effective programs, interventions, and approaches to curbing cycles of violence, caring for survivors, and providing families and communities with resources to thrive.

Our Vision

The Research & Action Center envisions an equitable system of justice — one which promotes individual and community healing and wellbeing, and we work towards nurturing this vision into reality.

The implementation of best practices, within both community organizations and justice systems, is an essential piece of our roadmap. In the broader effort to push the United States towards decarceration, we focus our vision on those who have been most impacted, both historically and currently. If we can ensure those most negatively impacted benefit from reforms to the justice system, we take another step closer to ensuring a truly equitable system of justice.

What We’re Doing

Researching System Disparities

We conduct research that identifies, and aims to reduce, disparities across race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the youth and adult justice systems.

Mixed-Methods Program Evaluation

Our team of researchers designs surveys and data collection instruments, conducts interviews and focus groups, and completes rigorous analysis of data.

Training & Capacity Building

We provide training and assistance to government agencies and community-based organizations, including guidance in understanding and using data to strategize and improve decision making.