We are always working with partners to ask hard questions about the justice system and develop new ideas for evaluations. Below are some of the questions and designs in our current pipeline:
Citation in lieu of Arrest
The Problem: Nationally, about twelve million people lose their freedom to arrest each year. These arrests have the potential to impact housing and employment outcomes for years to come. They also take officers off the street. A primary justification for arrest, one the United States Supreme Court invokes, is to assure appearance at court proceedings.
The Questions: Is using a citation (like a traffic ticket) in lieu of arrest for certain offenses a solution that can reduce the negative impacts of arrest while preserving court appearance rates and public safety? Is arrest worth the costs, as compared to alternatives?
The Study: With potential to launch in multiple jurisdictions, this evaluation could take one of several forms, including:
1) Individuals identified by law enforcement of committing an offense that is eligible for a permissive citation in lieu of arrest, and who pose no discernible safety risk to themselves or to the officer or to the public, will be assigned by lottery to either arrest or to receive a citation; or
2) Individuals identified by law enforcement of committing an offense that is eligible for a permissive citation in lieu of arrest, and who pose no discernible safety risk to themselves or to the officer or to the public, will be assigned by lottery to either arrest or receipt of citation in lieu of arrest by officer discretion or by random assignment.
What We’ll Learn: If proven effective, using citation could reduce costs and downstream impacts individuals experience due to arrest, while at the same time making more police officers available for other work. This intervention also has the potential to scale nationally.
The Problem: Residential displacement can disrupt a host of life activities and undoubtedly takes an emotional toll on tenants and their families. To mitigate those impacts, we need to know more about how tenants find themselves as defendants in summary eviction proceedings, the role that lawyers play in stopping or delaying those proceedings, and whether existing legal solutions address the problems of eviction as we understand them.
The Questions: How well do lawyers allocate the scarce resource of their time? Does legal representation yield improved outcomes for those facing eviction?
The Study: With its field partners, the A2J Lab has designed a double-randomized study. This RCT will investigate (1) how well lawyers make decisions about whom to represent; and (2) whether outcomes with direct representation are measurably different from those where tenants only have access to self-help materials. After staff attorneys conduct intake and make provisional representation decisions, the A2J Lab will randomize each potential client into one of two groups (the first level of randomization). In the first group, the attorney’s decision will be followed; in the second group, another random decision will replace the attorney’s. Among that second group, a computer-based randomizer will “decide” whether the potential client receives an offer of representation or self-help materials (the second level of randomization).
What We’ll Learn: This RCT design will help identify which eviction defendants’ outcomes truly depend on representation, whether those outcomes are continuances, stays of execution, or even possession of the apartment. It also will reveal whether the offer of direct representation increases the probability of success relative to receiving the self-help packet. Considering the larger social impact of eviction, this study will include non-adjudicatory outcomes measures such as the incidence of homelessness, unemployment, and adverse health effects, among other individual welfare consequences.
Legal Services for Domestic Violence Survivors
The Problem: Victims of domestic violence/sexual assault (DV/SA) experience the highest incidence of ancillary civil legal needs: on average, about eighteen per person in one state [this is crucial because the estimate isn’t nationwide, only from Washington State]. Yet the standard of care for civil legal assistance in the DV/SA context lags behind support for criminal prosecution. Compounding the problem is a severe lack of legal services in high-volume matters such as eviction and small-claims suits. The general expectation, therefore, is that DV/SA survivors will navigate the court system alone.
The Questions: Does supporting DV/SA survivors in accessing available civil legal resources improve social outcomes and/or reduce revictimization? If so, could that model be replicated in other jurisdictions? This high-need, vulnerable population is difficult to study; they also have complex needs that demand the best possible allocation of limited resources. Can service providers employ research tools that indicate what really works?
The Study: The A2J Lab has designed an evaluation to determine the impact of a unique resources referral program that assigns a legal navigator to assess survivors’ needs holistically and match them with appropriate resources. Participants will be randomized to one of two conditions: (1) automatic referral to the program; or (2) referral to other services, including direct referral to legal aid providers without the assistance of the program. The program will use a new survey tool to follow up directly with participants.
What We’ll Learn: The study will provide policymakers with concrete data about whether or not the program works and thus whether it is advisable to replicate (and continue to evaluate) the model elsewhere. In addition, by using new digital tools to survey DV/SA survivors, the evaluation will generate valuable data about whether or not online and text-based survey tools are effective ways to communicate with this vulnerable population.