IN BRIEF Marquette Research IN BRIEF
Crime and (differing) punishment Why is a black man arrested for marijuana possession in
the United States during the past 40 years has affected the
one state more likely to serve prison time than in another?
three states differently, he looked at several factors, includ-
That, and a proliferation of similar disparities nationwide, is
ing changes over time, differences in incarceration rates for
what led Marquette University Law School Professor Michael
violent crimes, the war on drugs, use of probation and race.
O’Hear to begin examining specific state criminal justice systems, an area of research he says has been lacking.
His research does not make policy recommendations but aims to challenge the notion that high incarceration rates are
“What engaged me was one statistic: that Wisconsin’s percapita incarceration rate was twice as high as Minnesota’s, a
an unavoidable product of high crime rates. “There are clear policy and practice differences between
state remarkably similar in crime rate, population size and
states and within states over time,” says O’Hear. “My hope is
culture,” says O’Hear, a nationally recognized authority on
that this research will have the effect of opening up criminal
sentencing and federal criminal law who is also an editor of
justice policy discussion in a new way and dispel the sense
Federal Sentencing Reporter.
of inevitability about the status quo.”
O’Hear began comparing the criminal justice systems in
The next phase of O’Hear’s research will be to assess
Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana — three similarly sized
the politics surrounding crime and justice in the three
Midwestern states. To learn how the incarceration boom in
states. — BOM
Halo Project ignites meaningful student research Does the presence of a faith community offer a protective “halo” around a neighborhood? To find out, Dr. Noreen Lephardt turned to Milwaukee Police Department crime statistics. But without granular, congregation-level data, the adjunct associate professor of economics found no such statistical relationships. “I was disappointed,” she says. “I needed better data sets. The available data didn’t reflect the depth and complexity of services that many inner-city faith communities provide to the community.” Research suggests that this type of contextual information, known as bridging and bonding, is important to understanding faith communities’ civic engagement and influence on societal dynamics, such as crime. By chance, Lephardt met Dr. Susan Mountin from Marquette’s Center
“The available data didn’t reflect the depth and complexity of services that many inner-city faith communities provide to the community.”
for Teaching and Learning at a retreat, and the Halo Project — as it is now known — was reignited. Mountin, who teaches a course on Christian discipleship, offered to get her sophomores involved in the ethnographic research needed for the project. “I thought this could be a great opportunity for an interdisciplinary study,” Mountin says. Mountin’s students immersed themselves in Milwaukee’s faith commu-
nities, conducting interviews, gathering marketing materials, and observing the faith leaders and followers. The project earned the researchers an invite to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge at the White House in 2011 and ’12. Lephardt says the results of the pilot study were promising. However, the most important value was the students’ research experiences and learning. “These young students were really stretched in terms of ethnographic research,” she says. “What’s more, it also enriched their awareness and understanding of different faith traditions. This is a model for interdisciplinary undergraduate learning and research at Marquette.” — CS