David Kirk

Sociology associate professor David Kirk received a grant to begin a pilot research program in 2015.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of David Kirk | Daily Texan Staff

The National Institute of Health awarded sociology associate professor David Kirk a grant to support his study, which examines criminal recidivism as a result of people returning to their former neighborhoods after incarceration.

Criminal recidivism is the tendency for former inmates to return to illegal behavior after being released. Kirk’s project, titled “The Maryland Prisoner Reentry Relocation Experiment,” aims to find whether there is a relationship between recidivism and the neighborhoods in which ex-convicts live.

“Prior research has demonstrated that when someone comes out of incarceration, if they go back to old neighborhoods, it is a recipe for disaster,” Kirk said. “The project examines what happens if they do not go back to their old social context.”

The program is a year-long pilot program that will take place in Maryland and will track two groups of released inmates. Both will receive subsidies for living, but half of them will return to their old neighborhoods while the other half will be relocated to different environments.

In order to gather information about criminal recidivism, the Bureau of Justice Statistics tracked approximately 400,000 prisoners across 30 states in 2005. They found that after three years, 67.8 percent of released inmates were re-arrested, and, after five years, 76.6 experienced the same results. 

According to Kirk, there are a number of factors that result in criminal recidivism, including social ties, criminal opportunity and dangerous environments.

“The idea is to sever the negative ties, the antisocial ties someone has, and connect them with pro-social ties,” Kirk said. “We’ve heard plenty of stories about people getting out and … celebrating, only to be surrounded by weapons and drugs again.”

Kirk, the only UT researcher involved with the project, said the University’s institutions played a key role in his project being awarded the grant money.

“One of the big things that UT has done is provide an institutional environment to help go after grant money to fund the project,” Kirk said. “It’s hard to get funded for any project, but UT has helped me get the resources necessary.”

The pilot is set to begin in 2015 and will be extended if the project yields successful results.

A student reported a man whom she believed to be photographing or videotaping her while exercising in Gregory Gym to UTPD on Thursday. According to UTPD’s campus watch, the man followed the student around the gym, placing a bag near her. This incident, which is still under investigation, is one of the thousands of suspicious activity reports UTPD receives each year. 

With the rate of suspicious activity reports in mind, UTPD Officer William Pieper developed the Safe Strides walking tour to help students, faculty and staff spot suspicious behavior. 

“It’s an issue of paying attention to your surroundings,” Pieper said. 

During the tour, officers lead students through campus, point out possible safety hazards and discuss emergency situations and preventative strategies students could use to avoid becoming a victim of crime. 

“We go over simple things, like staying in the center of the sidewalk,” Pieper said. “By staying in the center, you have more reactionary time, and you’re not too close to the landscaping that’s frequently along the side of sidewalks, where somebody might hide and jump out and attack you.”

Advertising junior Diana Nadira said, while she has not been on the tour, she is aware of her surroundings when walking through campus.

“I’ve altered my route before if no one was around me, especially if [it was] late at night,” Nadira said.

While most topics covered in the tours can be easily exemplified, Pieper said officers do not always have the chance to point out suspicious behavior.

“If we don’t actually have suspicious activity, because that doesn’t happen all the time everywhere, sometimes we have to use stories about things that have happened in the past and talk about how the environment shaped what happened,” Pieper said. 

Sociology associate professor David Kirk said even if students are alert and know how to identify suspicious activities, fear of retaliation may keep them from reporting it to police. 

“Retaliation can be broad, not just physical retaliation, but [students] can be ostracized for, in essence, ratting on somebody,” Kirk said. 

Kirk said another possible reason could be distrust of the police. 

“They may not trust the police to respond,” Kirk said. “They may not trust the police to keep their identity secret, or they may be cynical of the police more generally.” 

As part of the tour, students learn how to use police call boxes, which can be used to report questionable or criminal behavior. 

As he guides the tour, Pieper said he also advises students to stay away from funnel points, areas with narrow exits. On campus, a funnel point can form when a sidewalk comes between two buildings that are close to one another. 

“It might be better just to walk around the building instead of [coming] between them where there’s a funnel point,” Pieper said. “You reduce your options for moving, so, if you were accosted, you wouldn’t have as many options to run different directions because you’d have a building on each side of you.” 

Pieper said no tours were scheduled this semester, but he hopes to give monthly evening tours beginning in the summer.