Policy Memo Essay

Per the course syllabus, you will work in pairs to write a short policy memo using your choice of a data source among those listed below (pick only ONE):

Fatal Encounters, national database on people killed during police interactions
Measures for Justice, portal featuring state/county measures of criminal justice systems Vera Institute, trends in NYC jail population by inmate status, charges, length of stay etc. Prison Policy Initiative, state profiles featuring trends in prison populations by race etc.

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TRAC Reports, data on immigration detention trends, immigration courts, etc.

The memo should be structured around one or two problems that you seek to examine empirically. These problems must be formulated as explicit research questions: for ex., “are police-involved shootings in New Jersey different from those in Delaware?”, or “are trends in prison populations in New York in the late 2010s different from those in early 2010s, or “what are the best performing counties in Arizona in terms of case processing statistics in their criminal courts?”. The question or set of questions you ask as part of your policy memo need to be specific, integrated with your data source, and of course, answerable with your data analysis. Most of your research questions at this point will be descriptive in nature (“what are the key characteristics of X? how X changes over time? how is X different from Y?”), and not necessarily inferential or explanatory (for ex., “what causes X to turn into Z?”, “why X looks like X?”).

To answer the question(s) posed you will rely on your own original analysis of the data provided by the selected source (see above). This may involve calculating percentages, rates, means, etc. You must include in your memo at least one original table or visual aid (pie chart, trend chart, bar chart, map, etc.). In addition, you may integrate your analyses with prior work/research on the same topic or based on the same source (as noted in the syllabus up to eight references will be accepted in the form of websites, news reports, research articles, etc.).

The memo may not exceed 2,500 words, and it should include the following elements: a) describe the data source; b) identify one or two problems that can be studied using these data; c) develop a methodology to measure the prevalence in one of these problems over time or across units (for ex., as mentioned above, NJ vs DE, or NYC in late 2010s vs. NYC in early 2010s); d) use this methodology to identify potential intervention sites e) describe a possible intervention in terms of content and potential outcomes using prior research.

The memo should have a title that describes the subject of your work or research question, and a separate reference section entitled “references cited” (these references are not counted in the total word count). Late submissions will receive a grade penalty. You may use any formatting for texts and references.

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