Policy analysis as a graduate student leads to professional opportunity after graduation
After graduating with master’s degree in public policy this fall, Megan Drazek begins work as an auditor at the Arizona Office of the Auditor General in January. For Drazek, Arizona State University offered the perfect combination of programs and opportunities to prepare her for a career in public service.
Drazek found a particular passion studying the criminal justice system as an undergraduate student in the School of Social Work. She was selected to work for a local nonprofit as part of Public Allies, a national program affiliated with ASU that matches student’s interest in social justice and leadership training with nonprofit agencies in need of help.
“I find the justice system very interesting, and the sticky web it can create for some people,” said Drazek.
As a graduate student in the ASU School of Public Affairs, Drazek had the opportunity to put that passion to work. She interned with the Arizona Governor’s Office working on a joint project with the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Drazek was tasked with helping evaluate the effectiveness of interim housing and its impact on keeping people from committing new offenses after release from prison. Drazek had been working on a similar project in an advanced policy analysis class taught by Yushim Kim, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs.
A former graduate student of Kim who is now deputy chief of operations for the Arizona Governor’s Office, Ben Henderson, offered Drazek the chance to help inform a panel of policy analysts by evaluating data related to various types of transitional housing support and related outcomes.
“Once I started getting into the data, I thought about approaching the project with a different lens,” Drazek said. “I saw an opportunity to look at how the state was using assessments and risk scores, and how they might improve internal systems to achieve better results.”
Drazek evaluated the types of facilities and services offered. Using data provided by the Department of Corrections, she analyzed the interaction between the offender’s need and the use of the various facilities’ programs.
There are four types of housing models with various services used to help former inmates transition upon release from prison: recovery housing, true transitional housing, sober-living homes and spiritual discipleship programs.
“When you break it down, there seemed to be a disconnect between the services offered and individual needs,” she said.
For example, Drazek’s analysis showed that offenders with criminogenic needs — individual traits or challenges that directly influence the likelihood that person will re-offend — had better outcomes with support from highly structured transitional facilities and recovery housing. For offenders with vocational and job training needs, facilities that provided limited support in this area led to a 450 percent increase in the chance of re-offending.
She presented results to a panel from the Governor’s Office and Department of Corrections outlining three main recommendations: individual need assessments into the discharge planning process before inmates are released, developing a better institutional understanding of the transitional housing industry and the service specializations that each provide, and a needs-based planning tool to assist officers.
Her work will be used to create a matrix to help community corrections officers better identify the best fit.
“It is very exciting to be a part of this,” she said. “We are taking a serious look at how housing affects outcomes.”