UAlbany Criminal Justice Study Grapples with Guilty Pleas

UAlbany criminal justice researchers will head up a network to probe the processes and reasoning behind guilty pleas.
ALBANY, N.Y. (December 12, 2013) -- University at Albany criminal justice researchers will head up a National Science Foundation-funded network to probe the processes and reasoning behind guilty pleas in the criminal justice system.

The NSF Research Coordination Network (RCN): Understanding Guilty Pleas, is funded by a $298,700 grant to examine plea bargaining decision-making by defendants, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and members of courtroom workgroups.

"We hope the RCN becomes a vehicle by which new research is created, discussed, and disseminated throughout the social science, and ultimately, the policy community," said University at Albany professor of criminal justice and lead investigator Shawn Bushway.

The structure of the RCN incorporates three primary areas of study:

• The first core, led by economist Anne Morrison Piehl of Rutgers University, is entitled Prosecutorial Decision Making: Modeling the Process that Generates Plea Bargains. The study will grapple with one of the central puzzles of plea bargaining in the criminal justice context -- what motivates prosecutors and judges. While there is a rich body of literature in law and economics on plea bargaining in a civil context, where both parties are negotiating over money, the concerns of the prosecutor and judge are not as obvious in the criminal cases, since these actors do not gain anything directly from the defendant. The core will focus on the purposes and institutional factors that drive prosecution, using insight from economics, behavioral economics/psychology, sociology, and political science.

• The second core area of study, led by associate professor of criminal justice Allison Redlich of the University at Albany, is Defense Decision-Making: Understanding the Defendant’s Role, which focuses on the perspective of the defendant and the defense attorney. Most researchers have simply assumed that defendants are trying to minimize punishment, but the core will focus on the myriad factors that might affect these decisions.

Workgroup Decision Making: Modeling Organizational Influences, a third core led by associate professor of criminology and criminal justice Brian Johnson of the University of Maryland, focuses on the courtroom workgroup as a social entity with its own norms and pressures, and how it approaches plea bargaining. The core will also focus on solving some of the methodological problems surrounding the study of the ways social environments affect the plea bargaining process of a given workgroup.

The NSF grant funds the research until December 2016.

School of Criminal Justice:
Ranked the No. 2 program in the nation, UAlbany's School of Criminal Justice examines the political, economic and cultural patterns that shape definitions of crime and influence policy. Graduates find opportunities in the expanding academic field of criminal justice research and teaching, all the operating agencies of criminal justice, in addition to the many private and non-profit organizations which provide services or make policy recommendations. For more information, visit the School of Criminal Justice.

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