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Research Award Granted for Financial Distress Research Project

It’s a good day for empiricism in the law!

Dalié Jiménez, Associate Professor of Law at UConn School of Law

Professor Dalié Jiménez, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law who works with the Lab on the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP), was just awarded $25,000 through the Research Excellence Program at the University of Connecticut to support the FDRP.

The FDRP has been in planning for over 6 years, and is a partnership across multiple branches of government, academia, multiple non-profit service providers, and the private sector. It will enable us to evaluate rigorously, and therefore better understand the effectiveness of self-help material, attorney representation, and financial counseling.  The Project will bring knowledge of what works and what doesn’t for individuals in financial distress to the next level. Rigorous evidence like this is does not yet exist. The Project will be launched within the next couple weeks in Connecticut, and has been written about in MarketWatch, insideARM, and the Stamford Advocate.

Congratulations to Professor Jiménez!

Stay tuned for updates as we get ready to launch this project.

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Top Ten A2J Research Priorities: #2

And we’re back with our Top 10 A2J Research Priorities YouTube series! This time, Faculty Director Jim Greiner talks about triage in the civil context.

As a reminder, we at the Lab have come up with a list of what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. This list will be published weekly on our YouTube channel, in quick 2-3 minute videos to wake you up and get you excited about how ripe the field of access to justice is for experimentation, research, and, of course, RCTs.

Here’s our second installment:

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Guest Post: Eviction in Arizona Part I

Today we hear from A2J Lab Affiliate Daniel W. Bernal, a J.D./Ph.D. student at the James E. Rogers College of Law and the University of Arizona. Daniel has been conducting research on evictions in Arizona with an eye toward access gaps in summary proceedings. His research is culminating in an RCT (!) testing the effectiveness of self-help materials for pro se tenant litigants. We’ll hear from Daniel in a series of blog posts.

Top 10 A2J Research Priorities: #1

We at the Lab have come up with a list of what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. It’s Monday morning. . . we won’t make you read about these. Instead, our top 10 list will be published weekly on our YouTube channel, in quick 2-3 minute videos to wake you up and get you excited about how ripe the field of access to justice is for experimentation, research, and, of course, RCTs.

Here’s our first installment.

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Grading School Voucher Programs

Why RCTs?: School Choice

Everyone seems to have an opinion on school choice. Those favoring or trying to forestall the dismantling of residential barriers have fought loud, hard battles in the states. Interestingly, these battles haven’t necessarily pitted political partisans against each other. The “choice” bloc recently witnessed a vocal spokesperson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, rise to prominence. She has advocated passionately for implementing more voucher systems and giving parents and students more perceived opportunity to succeed where the current public school system, some claim, clearly cannot.

A2J Lab “Behind the Experiment”: Dane County Part III

Today we present a final look at key field partners who have helped make the Dane County PSA RCT one of the A2J Lab’s signature series. Check out Part I and Part II as well!

In this installment, we are fortunate to share reflections from three officers of the court: Judge Juan Colás, Commissioner Jason Hanson, and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

Judge Colás sits on the circuit court bench and serves as its Presiding Judge. Among other roles related to the PSA’s rollout in Dane County, he has been involved in important conversations with the Lab about the wisdom of and need for an RCT evaluation. After our recent meeting in Madison, Judge Colás communicated the following:

I am pleased that Dane County will be adding an evidence-based tool, the PSA, to the information available to judicial officials making pretrial release decisions. It’s especially exciting that we are doing so as part of a randomized controlled study through Harvard Law School. I hope we’ll find that adding the PSA helps us make wiser use of pretrial incarceration and monitoring resources while lowering our failure to appear rate and protecting the public.

Dane County also has eleven Commissioners who possess many of the same powers and duties of circuit court judges. Most important for our work is their role in presiding over custodial initial appearances. Commissioner Hanson oversees the vast majority of these initial appearances and has graciously allowed several Lab researchers to “ride along” in court. With respect to the PSA, he finds it

so exciting to not only be able to use the tool, but also to be a part of the validation process.  We [judges] so often find ourselves making changes because a proposal “feels right” or someone has read the newest article about criminal justice “best practices” in the New Yorker and wants to move on it. Here, we have the chance to actually put the word “evidence” back into evidence-based decision-making.

FullSizeRender2We couldn’t be more pleased to have these two judicial officials, both of whom are committed to rigorously scientific reform efforts, as partners from the bench.

What of the lawyers who appear before Dane County Commissioners? It is of course the District Attorney’s office that files charges against the defendants whose initial appearances form the basis of our RCT. Mr. Ozanne is sanguine about the PSA’s potential effects on pre-disposition outcomes, noting first that “Dane County and Wisconsin have a history of working with evidence-based practices in criminal justice.” He nevertheless “hope[s] this move towards the PSA tool in the criminal justice system will afford us a clearer path towards equity and accountability not just for defendants but for the criminal justice system and our community partners.”

As I have noted elsewhere, the PSA’s potential impact is largely based on an informational hypothesis. With so much “noise” plaguing the Commissioner’s perception of a given defendant’s true risk of failure, the PSA might provide a more objective “signal” regarding that underlying risk. Mr. Ozanne and his staff will still be able to offer opinions in court and advocate for their own release condition preferences. He has pledged, alongside the objective of assessing defendant risk more precisely, to “never lose sight of the victims.” He believes their “voice and role in the criminal justice system is so important and cannot be undercut.” And so Mr. Ozanne is “committed to working with our community and systems partners to always strive to improve our current systems” in the hope that the A2J Lab’s RCT “will help inform our decisions and better protect our communities, our victims now and in the future.”

Stay tuned for another “Behind the RCT” series on our ongoing development efforts in the State of Iowa!

A stretch of open land between Polk and Linn Counties, Iowa, possible sites for future PSA RCTs.

A stretch of open land between Polk and Linn Counties, Iowa, possible sites for future PSA RCTs.

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Exciting Job Opp. at the National Center for Access to Justice

Our friends at the National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Fordham Law School are hiring! They are looking for someone trained in law, policy analysis, or data analysis (or some mix of the three) to strengthen the Center’s Justice Index. See here for details about the position and how to apply.

From NCAJ’s job posting:

NCAJ is currently updating and expanding its Justice Index, writing a guide for civil legal aid organizations on using data to reveal the value of civil legal aid in people’s lives, and helping to implement UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 which calls on all countries of the world to use data to assure access to justice. The Justice Index, justiceindex.org, is NCAJ’s online tool that promotes reform in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. by using data to rank states on their degree of adoption of best policies and practices for access to justice.

The new staff member will contribute to NCAJ’s projects and to its growth as an institution. Activities include, among others, research, writing, data analysis, speaking, advocacy, grant writing and reporting, and supervision of volunteer attorneys and students.

Sounds exciting!

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A2J Lab “Behind the Experiment”: Dane County Part I

Last week, we marked the launch of our PSA RCT in Dane County, Wisconsin. Starting today, I will be pulling back the field experiment curtain, as it were, and introducing some of the A2J Lab’s field partners. These Dane County employees have worked tirelessly for almost two years to make the PSA’s implementation and our concurrent evaluation possible.

Ready, Set, Launch

Research Director Chris Griffin blogs from Wisconsin:

The day has finally arrived!

At this afternoon’s initial appearance court in Dane County, WI, the A2J Lab begins its evaluation of the Public Safety Assessment (“PSA”). Criminal process in this jurisdiction now includes additional, scientifically based information in a randomly selected subset of cases to inform pre-disposition release decisions. The judicial official–known here as a Commissioner–receives risk scores and a recommendation for release through the PSA and its static criminal history inputs to consider in reaching those decisions. Check out this video starring Lab affiliate Heidi Liu and yours truly to learn more about the science behind this RCT: