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Professor and Chair, Sociology Department

Sandra Smith is primarily a qualitative researcher with a longstanding interest in questions of urban poverty and joblessness, social capital and social networks, racial inequality, intraracial dynamics, and trust. Recently Smith’s interests have expanded to include criminal justice issues, with special attention to the front-end of criminal case processing. Specifically, she has been considering the extent to which and how institutional arrangements related to the front end of penal contact contribute to the reproduction of racial and class inequalities.

With a generous grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, she has begun a large four-city qualitative study of the front end of criminal case processing, with a focus on how pretrial detention and diversion effect justice-involved individuals’ future involvement with crime. A growing body of research links differing outcomes to experiences related to, among other things, diversion programs and varying lengths of pretrial detention; the former increases the odds of desistance, while the latter increases the odds of recidivism. To date, however, we know relatively little about how and why these interventions matter for future criminal involvement. The aim of her three-year project is to better understand how justice-involved individuals’ lives are altered in the short- and long-term by these criminal justice interventions, highlighting similarities and differences, across the four contexts (Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco), in the extent and nature of pretrial diversion and detention procedures and defendants’ experiences.