Criminal justice grad's research on trouble spots in policing gives her hope

May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Katharine Leigh Brown loves and values the criminal justice system. She even entertained thoughts of becoming a police officer. Katharine (with brown hair and white floral blouse) stands in front of ASU Downtown campus “I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Katharine Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.” Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But Brown’s love is not blind and unquestioning. She is acutely aware of policing issues, particularly with regards to marginalized people, that need attention for the sake of police officers and the communities they serve.

“There are practices in policing I see that could use changes, and as of now we don’t have clear answers to what the best changes are,” said Brown of Palmdale, California.

Brown is on the case. She wants her research on fairness and police-citizen interaction to unlock mysteries of how and why the criminal justice system does what it does and how to make that system better for everyone.

“I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.”

Brown is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

While an undergraduate student studying sociology at the University of California-San Diego, Brown worked as a first responder, a civilian position, in the university police department. She thought she was on a path to become a police officer but decided to add another possible alternative by applying for a spot in the criminal justice master’s program at Arizona State University.

At ASU, she learned she loves research, and her professional interests switched from the academy to academia. Her plans now are to be a career researcher instead of a career police officer.

“What threw me into the research side is realizing there are so many questions that I want answered, and there are so many ways I want to help police departments and officers,” Brown said. “I really think I can have a lot of opportunities to do so as a researcher.”

Brown, a first-generation college graduate, is a scholar of procedural justice. As a graduate research assistant, she worked with Assistant Professor Cody Telep in evaluating efforts by a police department in California to better approach the homeless.

Her master’s thesis research on the influence of officer gender grew from her push for valuing women and their role in the criminal justice system. She will present her research at the American Society of Criminology's annual meeting this November.

“Women are awesome,” Brown said. “They are undervalued. We need to do more research on them because they are amazing.”

While pursuing her doctoral degree at ASU, Brown will continue looking at criminology and the criminal justice system with an emphasis on fairness and process with marginalized communities. Her research will focus on evidence-based policing and procedural justice in a quest to create effective and fair policies that improve relationships between police and communities and implement tactics that make officers safer.

She expects her future research could go in many directions. For example, her interests in gender and crime could lead to an investigation of how things like access to health care for marginalized and poor women may contribute to disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Brown’s research to date on trouble spots in policing gives her hope.

“When you study marginalized populations, when you hear about frequently or see frequently how marginalized populations have had bad interactions with the criminal justice system, it’s disheartening,” Brown said.

“Seeing my fellow students and the professors doing such important work, I think it made me more positive in that I feel like we can help as a population. There’s more we can do and that people are already doing. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take time, but there are things being done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

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Schools, communities tackling food insecurity but policy changes needed, experts say

ASU forum highlights complex issue of improving family diets in South Phoenix.
May 3, 2019

ASU forum on family nutrition in South Phoenix highlights complex issue

Improving the quality of food for families in South Phoenix will likely require many changes, ranging from policy updates at the federal level to a stronger focus on culture at the family level, according to a group of experts who tackled the issue last week.

“Feeding Families” was a panel discussion sponsored by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University, which held the event at the Verna McClain Wellness Center in South Phoenix.

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center has federal funding to study health disparities and how research can be applied to directly help communities, according to James Herbert Williams, interim executive director of the center, which is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“One thing we work at very hard is trying to understand what a community needs to address — and to be empowered to solve — problems,” said Williams, who is the Arizona Centennial Professor of Social Welfare Services. “We decided to come to South Phoenix so we can hear from you.”

Here’s what the experts said about food insecurity and nutrition:

Working with families

Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition, College of Health Solutions, ASU: I’ve been focusing on Hispanic families and how to promote healthy eating for prevention of chronic diseases, specifically on how to change behavior. A lot of people say, “You need to educate,” but we know that’s not enough to make people make better choices on what to buy, cook and eat. 

Our approach in recent years has been to focus on families, not individuals, and to look at factors to motivate people to change not only for themselves, but for other members of their families.

Lawrence Robinson, president of the governing board of the Roosevelt School District, described programs in his schools that include gardening, cooking and nutrition at the "Feeding Families" forum on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


The pleasure of eating

Vega-López: I’ve been thinking about diet quality, not just food insecurity. We’ve been very good at getting the public very confused about what we shouldn’t eat. We’re starting to talk about whole foods and utilizing foods from farms and preparing more meals from scratch. We’re using simpler messages and focusing on the pleasure of food.

Lawrence Robinson, director of Leadership for Educational Equity and governing board president of the Roosevelt School District: We shouldn’t talk about food without saying that it’s delicious and people enjoy it. With food comes culture. At Lassen Elementary School, we gave the students a task to take one ingredient and go home and talk to their families about it. By the end of the project, they learned not only how to grow and cook and consume that ingredient but how it related to their families.

Then we had a dinner with all that produce. We shared the dinner together, and the kids shared their stories. People came together and were fed. They learned responsibility. And all of that made them healthier. If you cook it, they will come and hopefully it will transform the academic outcomes in our district.

Food and culture

Vega-López: We forget that traditional foods include a lot of healthy foods. A traditional Mexican diet is not what you see on the list of items at a Mexican restaurant. They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish.

We can tell people that those are the foods they already know how to cook and they don’t need to invent new meals. They need to go back to their roots.

Robinson: This area is now a food desert, but I remember as a kid picking collard greens, with miles of fresh produce tended by African American families. You have the neighborhood that had the fresh food that now has obesity and diabetes and is deemed a food desert.

It’s now the policy of land use to wipe out the healthy, safe neighborhood culture that was just here a minute ago.

Shifting the conversation

John Wann-Ángeles, founding director of the Orchard Community Learning Center, a farm and educational organization based in South Phoenix: I’ve read about the "100 things we can do to reverse global warming." A plant-rich diet is No. 4 on the list, and we know a plant-based diet is the only one proven to reverse heart disease.

Why aren’t these questions at the center of school curriculum, not as add-ons? If this were the center of curriculum, a generation could change this conversation.

Federal policy effects

Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, which serves 450,000 people per month: We have to recognize the role of the federal government. SNAPThe Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families. feeds more than a million families but the benefits are so low, about $230 a month, that your choices are based on your pocketbook and not on what’s appropriate.

There are constant discussions about who should be able to buy what types of food, but until they raise the amount that allows it to be a true choice, we shouldn’t have conversations about restricting SNAP choices.

If you go into our food banks now you’ll find the result of the trade war — food the growers were unable to sell to governments like China, which includes pork and a significant amount of all dairy products. We’re thankful for the food. But we’ve received 24 million pounds of pork and dairy in the last eight months, and now you’ve changed the expectations and the palate of the clientele. Could we do that with fresh fruits and vegetables? We absolutely could.

Linda Rider, director of nutrition services at Tempe Elementary School District: The policy changed about 10 years ago to require more whole-grain foods. The current administration has taken a step back, and that’s frustrating because we work hard to make sure we have the right foods. We had that extra 6 cents in reimbursements for healthy foods, and when you take a step back, it will allow them to take back that reimbursement.

Feeding children in school

Rider: We’re in the process of putting salad bars in the serving line because of research we did with ASU. One of their great findings was that when you put salad bars in the serving line versus outside the line, kids will take more fruits and vegetables and actually eat them. When it’s outside the line, they already have their food and are too interested in talking to their friends.

Robinson: Getting farm to table is extremely hard for schools. You have to certify all the health and safety processes. And we’re required to accept the lowest bidder so we can’t buy locally sourced food if it’s not the lowest bid.

Top image: Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions at ASU, makes a point at the "Feeding Families" forum held by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center in South Phoenix on May 2. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


The future looks fun for outstanding grad who discovered joys of recreational therapy

May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Having fun is a lifelong habit of Kelly Walsh. It’s important to her as a person aspiring to remain healthy and strong in her quest to help improve the lives of others. Kelly (with light complexion, brown hair, and pink and green floral blouse) smiles in Civic Space Park Kelly Walsh. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But now having fun for Walsh, the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Community Resources and Development in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is also part of a framework for rigorous thought and scientific practice. Walsh, of New Hartford, Connecticut, intends to use her Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation management with a concentration in therapeutic recreation to help advance wellness of individuals and communities.

“At the end of the day,” Walsh said, “if you’re not having fun and you’re too stressed out about the work you’re doing, you’re not going to remember those days as being some of the better days of your life, you know?”

Walsh, who also earned a certificate in cross-sector leadership, has had fun at Arizona State University, while serving as a resident assistant on the Tempe campus, being part of the first cohort of the Next Generation Service Corps of the Public Service Academy, co-founding the Devils Spark Change service organization and being part of a team that qualified for a Woodside Grant that purchased equipment for therapeutic recreation at the Maricopa Reentry Center.

Fun as a recreational therapist is an entirely different category. It’s life-changing.

“How I do recreational therapy is to take a holistic approach to working with individuals to tackle any mental or physical barrier they may be having in their lives,” Walsh said.

Through internships and other programs and projects, Walsh has seen that approach work in multiple settings, including healthcare institutions, such as Barrow Neurological Institute, and correctional facilities, such as the Maricopa Reentry Center. Progress can come in the form of patients playing board games with family members or men in a conference room meeting a challenge to keep an inflated balloon from touching the floor.

Who knew?

Walsh didn’t. Not at first.

Walsh didn’t enroll at ASU to become a recreational therapist. At first, she thought she wanted to be a speech language pathologist but changed her mind after a few classes. An adviser picked up on Walsh’s interest in the Special Olympics and suggested a degree in nonprofit leadership management. That was another wrong path.

How about recreation therapy, the adviser asked. Walsh asked for an explanation of what that was and liked what she heard.

“That sounds like you get to make people have fun for a living, and that’s exactly what we do,” she recalls thinking. “I didn’t know you could do that as a profession. You get paid to teach other people how to play.”

There’s a need for play, said Walsh, whose parents instilled in her at a young age the importance of participating in diverse activities to maintain physical and mental health. Through her ASU experience, she now knows there’s a science behind therapeutic play and methods behind the practice.

She also fervently believes leisure and relaxation should be for everyone. Walsh has a particular interest in recreational therapy in correctional settings. Her immediate plans after graduation aren’t set in stone, but she has a career goal of using leisure to reduce recidivism rates.

“I believe all individuals have the right to leisure and that no citizen should be locked away without some form of outlet to cope with the circumstances they are in,” Walsh said. “When individuals are in correctional facilities, they suffer from prisonization, which essentially strips away their identity. I believe recreation helps bring people together and build individuals back up.”

Through her involvement with the Next Generation Service Corps, Walsh said she has spent a lot of time understanding what it means to be a character-driven leader. At the same time, her hands-on experiences in recreation therapy gave richer, deeper meaning to textbook knowledge. She connected it all to the care she was giving clients battling addiction, experiencing homelessness, adjusting to traumatic injury or learning how to live with a mental health diagnosis.

“I am excited to have developed a new love for learning in the past year that focuses on the worth of the materials being learned, but more importantly, how they are being translated in the communities we are serving,” Walsh said.

Walsh is interested in diving deeper into the research on recreational therapy. Recreational therapists need the education that comes from evidenced-based practice to deliver the treatment people need, she said, adding she’ll forever remember something instructor Kelly Ramella taught her about pursuing passion and earning respect for the profession:

“Recreational therapy is not the most accredited profession in the field,” she said. “We have to push through if we believe in the practice that we preach. And we have to make sure the other professions understand that we are credible and our clients see us as being a source in their recovery.”

Walsh’s best advice to students is not hard to guess: Seek knowledge and experiences beyond the classroom. Connect with people who have interests and perspectives unlike your own. Find places to experience new things and ideas.

And, of course, have fun.

Story by Jennifer Dokes

From senior master sergeant to master's degree, grad sees value of access to education

May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Loescher takes to heart the universal truth that education is a great equalizer. He has seen it in action during his military career in places like Baghdad. He is also living proof. Joshua (light complexion with close-cropped blonde hair) stands in black uniform in front of Air National Guard fire truck and american flag Joshua Loescher. Download Full Image

“I’ve been able to go to other places in the world and see different things,” Loescher said. “Not all of it is good.”

But it can be better. Loescher firmly believes that.

“I am passionate about equity of opportunity and the role that education plays in that,” said Loescher, a Wisconsin Air National Guard fire chief. “Having witnessed the manifestation of the globalization of education and the equity in opportunity it provided me and others across the globe, I can’t help but be enamored by it.”

Loescher, who is graduating from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in public safety leadership and administration, is the spring 2019 outstanding interdisciplinary graduate for Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Loescher’s appreciation of access to education as a universal phenomenon grew when he saw how Iraqis and others struggled to learn what American military firefighters were assigned to teach. 

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Loescher said. “The reason they were not very good at the job is because they didn’t have the opportunity to be good. They didn’t have the training. … These people aren’t inherently lazy. They inherently don’t have opportunity.”

Loescher could relate on a personal level. College opportunities were limited for a kid from rural Wisconsin with a high school academic record that was “less than stellar.” Online degree programs opened up a new world of possibilities for Loescher.

“You can find a bajillion statistics out there about how people that have attained bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees are smarter, healthier, they make more money, and they have a general overall better quality of life,” Loescher said.

“I made the choice to enlist in the military. I didn’t think it was right, that because I made a choice to go into the military as opposed to going to college, that I should have less opportunity than somebody else.”

Online degree programs offer opportunities “to do exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it,” Loescher said.

In 2017, Loescher earned his bachelor’s degree in fire science from American Military University, an online learning institution. He took just a few months off and then dived into the Watts College online master’s degree program.

Loescher credits ASU’s proactive approach to making college accessible for helping him become more of who he wants to be as a professional and a person. He said the master’s degree gives him a more complete understanding of how to manage an organization, which he believes will help him be a better fire chief and leader.

His capstone project already has the attention of high command. As part of his program, Loescher analyzed a major challenge of the dual federal and state budget processes that finance National Guard installations. National Guard units belong to states, but each installation’s base, buildings and equipment are owned by the federal government. The federal government pays states to fund National Guard firefighters.

The Air National Guard is interested in knowing the impact of converting firefighters from being federally funded employees to simply federal employees. Loescher provided some answers.

For each Air National Guard fire department, Loescher assessed costs and variables over five years. He then analyzed the leadership impacts from introducing such a major institutional change. His work is making its way up the Air National Guard chain of command, providing insight that could yield greater efficiencies in fire service administration and operations.

Loescher, who has three deployments and has earned 19 decorations during his military career, expects to apply what he has learned at ASU in service to others. Some ideas for the future include teaching at the college level and perhaps one more deployment, where he hopes to repeat making a positive difference training military firefighters.

But the overall goal for Loescher, a proud husband and father to three sons, is to continue to be someone who leads by “positive example of kindness, compassion, inclusion and understanding.”

“If you’re going to use your position to your advantage, you should use it because you know there’s a bunch of people watching you,” he said. “If you just do the things you’re supposed to do and you’re nice to people and you work hard, then that will tell people who are watching you that, ‘It worked out for that guy. Look at him; he’s a fire chief. If it worked for him, it will probably work out for me, too.’”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Master of Social Work grad draws from history and legacy to help others

May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Jennifer Harrison’s master’s degree in social work bears proof she has the training and knowledge to be an effective professional. But the summa cum laude graduate of Arizona State University will put so much more than that into her career of helping people. Jennifer Harrison (medium complexion with long dark hair, wearing native american turquoise jewelry and a dark teal dress) sits before a gray and white woven Native American tapestry Jennifer Harrison. Download Full Image

In service to American Indian communities and in staying true to herself, Harrison, of Gallup, New Mexico, will draw from history and legacy in pressing forward in a career in social work. Restoring a strong foundation of tradition and the ceremonies taught by elders “that guide us in our life journeys,” she said, is important in addressing the historical trauma found at the root of modern-day suffering among some American Indians.

Harrison, a first-generation college graduate, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Social Work in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Scholarship and leadership are hallmarks of Harrison’s career at ASU, where she also received her bachelor’s degree. She earned her master’s degree through scholarships from the Navajo Nation and the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. She is the president of the American Indian Social Work Student Association and has been active in ASU campus conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Christopher Sharp, a project coordinator in the School of Social Work’s Office of American Indian Projects, said he has enjoyed watching Harrison apply skills that have made an impact at the university and in the community.

“She is self-confident and can advocate, but in a humble way,” Sharp said, adding that she exceeds expectations in leadership. He believes that will continue as she pursues her passion of tribal child welfare and becomes a leader in that field. “She’ll be an asset to the community that she works with."

Last fall, she coordinated a powerful signature event for Native American Heritage Month featuring a pre-release screening of “Blood Memory” and a discussion with Sandy White Hawk, one of the main subjects in the documentary about the U.S. Indian Adoption Era. The “Blood Memory” event was designed to raise awareness about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which is under legal challenge. Harrison is a strong advocate of that act, often referred to as the “gold standard” in child welfare policy.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was a response to an alarmingly high rate of forced removal of American Indian children from their traditional homes. Those child removal and adoption practices, like the U.S. policy of forcibly removing children from their homes and into government-run boarding schools, was considered another in a series of attempts to eradicate American Indian culture and customs.

Harrison, the mother of a young son, knows the value of culture and customs. She believes values handed down by her elders helped her overcome challenges and obstacles to her success, including the oppressive grief of losing a parent and grandparent and the culture shock of moving from a small town to a big city far from family.  

Those same values are helping Harrison raise her son and to be a community leader where needed. When she moved to Phoenix three years ago, she had no idea leadership and volunteer roles with Cub Scouts and youth sports would be such a big part of her life.

Harrison came to be a social worker by way of studying nursing and then nearly becoming a physical therapist.

“My family is like, ‘Stick to one thing.’ But no, 'I want to do this, and this and this,'” Harrison said.

Everything she wanted to do was in what someone called a “helping profession.” A helper is who Harrison is at her core.

“I found out about social work and saw that’s exactly what I want to do, not the medical aspect but the advocacy aspect of it,” Harrison said.

Harrison got a taste of advocacy work by volunteering with the Court Appointed Special Assistant program. While she intends to concentrate on Indian Child Welfare Act advocacy, she does entertain future plans of earning a doctoral degree in social work or perhaps becoming a guardian ad litem — a guardian appointed by a court to protect the interests of a minor or other vulnerable individual — which could put her on a path to attend law school.

There is no shortage of areas to help, Harrison realizes, but there is success with commitment. She encourages those still in school to stay focused and dig deep.

“It’s possible to reach your dream,” Harrison said. “Don’t give up on it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Change maker hopes to use public policy to live university charter long after graduation

May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Aly Perkins’ academic transcript bears the look of a young scholar in a hurry to get to the next level. Her success in advanced placement classes gave her a large head start in college. The Arizona State University graduate completed her bachelor’s degree in three years. Aly Perkins (light complexion with medium brown hair, wears sleeveless dress, maroon mortar board, maroon and gold cords, and gold stole of gratitude) stands smiling in front of Arizona Capitol building Aly Perkins. Photo by Nicole Hernandez Download Full Image

But Perkins does more with her time than most. While the pace of her academic career is impressive, it’s the passion behind all of her pursuits and the impact of her efforts that set her apart. During her relatively short stint at ASU, Perkins, of San Clemente, California, spent two sessions as an Arizona Senate page, was elected to student senate and then president of the Downtown Phoenix campus and made academic program history at ASU by becoming the first student to create a course certificate that will help advance an early understanding of law.

The brilliant thinker is a change maker. She’s also the spring 2019 outstanding graduate from Barrett, The Honors College, earning her degree from the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
“Aly is someone who can change the world in a positive way. I think she already has,” said Joanna Lucio, associate dean of academic affairs for Watts College. “She’s someone who is so passionate about what she does. The effort she puts into her work really just shows how passionate she is.”

Three years ago, Perkins was on a path to advance her water polo career to the collegiate level. But, as is her habit, she examined many possibilities.

“There was something about ASU that made me reconsider my options and attend school without continuing with water polo,” Perkins said. “The Honors college especially was a big draw for me.”

Perkins is always drawn to a challenge. The motivation behind all those AP classes wasn’t to earn college credits, although that was a nice bonus. Perkins said she just wanted the academic challenge.

She got two other bonuses in enrolling in the School of Public affairs. Both were unexpected.

First, she recalls welcoming remarks from Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell who touted the ASU Charter.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is interesting. I wasn’t really expecting this coming here. My goal was to just get a degree and go to law school. I’m not sure what the public service element has to do with anything. I’m kind of confused by the emphasis on inclusivity.’

“But, really, the work that I’ve been able to do with both student government and just being in the school environment for three years has really taught me the importance of that inclusivity,” Perkins said. “I don’t view society the same any more. My worldview is different.”

Different, she said, in a way that makes her hopeful and concerned.

“I’m going to try to do my part to make sure the philosophy of the charter is carried out past ASU,” Perkins said.

The second unexpected bonus came when she dove into her course of study.

“I chose public policy in particular because I always knew I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “To me, it felt like this degree program would be the best fit for preparing me for law school, but it turns out that I love public policy for what it is so much more than I ever anticipated.”

There’s enough love for public policy and ASU for Perkins to want to spend time more time in the Valley. Upon graduation, she’ll work in the ASU Office of Government and Community Relations. Law school can wait a few years, she said.

Perkins has no strong desire to become a lawyer. Her determination to go to law school comes from a realization early in life about the impact laws have on individuals and society.

“[The law] is applicable to everyone’s life,” Perkins said. “Whether or not you pay attention to it, it doesn’t matter because it’s paying attention to you. The way it touches everyone’s life is really interesting to me.”

Spending time at the Arizona Capitol, getting an up close and personal look at political process and policy development, reinforced that impression.

“I don’t have a particular [law] specialization in mind. I don’t even want, at this point, to even practice law as your typical lawyer. I really want to be a lobbyist or an advocate with a JD.”

Lucio, who was Perkins’ honors thesis chairperson, thinks ahead five or 10 years to whatever challenge Perkins has in her sights. The possibilities seem endless.

“She can do anything,” Lucio said. “But I see her making successful change in government policies. She’s going to law school so she can really learn the tools that she needs … to work in the government in some capacity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s state or federal government fighting for changes that need to be done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

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Criminal justice reforms will require changes in culture, experts say

Criminal justice reform will take courage, broad changes, ASU experts say.
April 30, 2019

More treatment, shorter sentences among recommendations at ASU panel

Crime is down in Arizona but more people are in prison, and confronting that issue will require a broad range of changes plus a lot of courage, according to a group discussion on criminal justice reform held on Tuesday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

“Some people will say that crime is down because we’re locking up the bad guys, but others will argue just as passionately that we’re wasting money by locking up people at a time when crime is down,” said Dan Hunting, senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which is part of Arizona State University.

“There’s a lot of discussion about this in academic circles. It’s a very complex issue.”

The discussion, held at the Downtown Phoenix campus, was based on the 2018 initiative of Arizona Town Hall, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and engages people to solve problems. Last year, the group addressed criminal justice reform, holding a statewide town hall and producing a report that was edited by Hunting. He covered some of the highlights of the report at Tuesday’s talk:

• Since 2006, violent crime has decreased 20% and property crime has decreased 36%.

• The state’s population has doubled since 1987 but the prison population has increased 3.5 times.

• The estimated cost of the criminal justice system is $525 per person per year in Arizona.

• Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country at 585 incarcerated people per 100,000 population.

Recommendations from the statewide town hall included:

• Focus on evidence-based decision making.

• Provide early interventions to keep people out of prison.

• Establish a statewide task force to determine best practices.

• Encourage the Legislature to reinstate laws requiring cost comparisons between private prisons and those run by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

• Create and fund an adequate number of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.

At Tuesday’s talk, a panel of experts discussed the recommendations.

Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, said he was surprised about the recommendation on comparing costs for privately and state-run prisons.

“If we were to go down that road, the research is mixed,” he said. “It takes us further away from the right question to be asked: Why do we have so many people in prison?”

The public doesn’t always grasp the ramifications of long prison sentences, they said.

“On paper you can add up any number of years … think about where you were five years ago in your life. Think about 10 years, 20 years. I think it’s way too much time,” said Wright, who is director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, a year-old unit in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice devoted to research, education and community outreach.

Wright said the research describes an “age crime curve.”

“People peak in criminal behavior in their 20s and then decline rapidly,” he said. “When you’re incarcerating people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, in terms of public safety, what are you doing?” 

Khalil Rushdan, community partnerships coordinator for ACLU Arizona, makes a point during the audience discussion at a panel discussion on criminal justice reform on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Paul O’Connell, operations director of the Community Corrections Bureau of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said that Arizona is a “truth in sentencing” state, meaning that prisoners must serve 85% of their sentence no matter what. And that leaves much less time for supervision and support for people on parole after they leave prison and try to reenter their communities.

“If their risk level is minimum, we see them only twice, and if they’re really bad, we see them six times,” he said.

“We have this person coming out after 20 years not knowing how to get a job or take the bus. What I would like to see is have them serve more time under community supervision so we get to work with them, build relationships and do a better job.”

O’Connell said that addressing criminal justice reform must be a broad effort.

“There’s more to public safety than locking people up. Public safety is better roads, better education, stronger families.

“It’s not just a criminal justice problem, it’s a societal problem. It takes courage to initiate these recommendations. That’s where the battle lies.”

Wright said he frequently encounters two myths about the criminal justice system.

“Some people want to lock people away and forget about them and not care what happens to them while they’re in prison,” he said.

“The statistic is that 95% of people who go to prison will return to their communities. They will be your future neighbors. Why do you want them to be worse than when they went in?”

And while the criminal justice system costs $1 billion a year in Arizona, Wright said that more resources are needed for people who work with prisoners.

“Whatever you think about why people engage in criminal behavior, we couldn’t figure it out on the outside and then we put them in one place and ask this one department to figure it out with limited resources,” he said.

“It should be one of the most important jobs in America and yet as someone who educates people who will go into these professions, it’s not. It’s low pay. People use it as a springboard to something else. We have to devote more resources and think differently.”

Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge, said that legislators typically know little about the criminal justice system and have been a missing voice in the discussion on reform.

“What’s really important is the business community — they haven’t weighed in enough,” he said.

Wright said that academic voices also need to be heard because they’re the ones who produce the evidence that everyone wants to see used in decision-making.

“We collect the evidence and make sense of the evidence and say, ‘I don’t care what the answer is. I just want to produce the answer.’”

And the public needs to hear from incarcerated people themselves. Wright wrote the chapter on reentry and recidivism in the Arizona Town Hall report. A few years ago, his center trained men who were incarcerated to interview their peers in prison.

“They interviewed over 400 guys in six weeks,” he said. “It’s their own words of what motivated them and led them to fulfilling lives. It’s not just rewarding positive behavior. It’s setting up sustainable and fulfilling lifestyles.”

After the panel discussion, the audience discussed potential solutions, including addressing homelessness and restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, funding more treatment centers and eliminating barriers to family communication with incarcerated people — like expensive fees for phone calls.

Khalil Rushdan, the community partnerships coordinator with the ACLU of Arizona, said that a “punitive culture” in the state leads to overcharging people.

“We need leaders who are willing to change this culture, and that goes to the county attorney’s office,” he said.

“And before we give one more dollar to the (Department of) Corrections, we should have more transparency and an audit to see where these dollars are going.”

Top image: A panel of experts discussed criminal justice reform at a panel discussion at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. From left: Paul O'Connell, operations director for the Arizona Department of Corrections Community Corrections Bureau; Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge; and Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU and the director of the Center for Correctional Solutions. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


LA high schoolers say HOLA to ASU Downtown Phoenix campus for a glimpse of college life

April 30, 2019

A budding partnership between Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) recently brought a dozen LA sophomores and juniors to the Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix campus for an immersive college experience.

As ASU begins establishing its newest location in downtown Los Angeles at the Herald Examiner building, this growing partnership with HOLA — a vital resource for youth in the area — will serve to strengthen ties with the LA community. HOLA teens throw up their pitchforks for a group photo in front of Wells Fargo Arena HOLA teens pose for a group photo outside Wells Fargo Arena where they watched an ASU basketball game. Photo courtesy of Heart of Los Angeles

HOLA is nonprofit organization currently serving over 2,100 youth ages 6 to 24. It provides underserved youth with free, exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.

Watts College hosted HOLA’s Southwest Airlines pre-alumni scholars in downtown Phoenix for an overnight campus stay in February, offering the high school students a taste of college life. The 2019 visit was the first, with the goal of making the visit an annual occurrence.

From Sunday to Monday, HOLA students toured the campus, participated in college classes and college-readiness workshops, watched the ASU Sun Devils beat the California Golden Bears men’s basketball team 69-59 and talked with current Watts College student Xochilt Zelaya.

Zelaya, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, is from the Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles close to where HOLA is located, which made it easy for her to connect with the students.

“As an L.A. native who transferred over to ASU, it was exciting to see more people from my community wanting to take the same educational route I did,” Zelaya said.

“HOLA is an incredible organization that is nurturing young people to see themselves as agents of change in their communities, creating pathways to education for their families,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of Watts College.

“That’s why this partnership is so important to me. Watts College exists to make a difference in communities, and supporting the goals of young people like HOLA’s scholars is core to our mission.”

Along with making the overnight campus visit an annual one, Watts College will sponsor four HOLA students per year (sophomores, juniors or seniors) with scholarships to attend “SummerUP,” an ASU camp held on the West campus, where students are mentored on college readiness and get a taste of university-level, hands-on learning in areas like forensic science, coding, global entrepreneurship and game design.

“Watts College’s consideration shown to our scholars is immensely helpful in our mission to support aspiring college students,” said Anthony Gilmore, scholarship coordinator for HOLA. “Our students have not stopped talking about their adventure in Arizona and have now been exposed to what could be when studying out of state.”

HOLA CEO Tony Brown added, “ASU's track record of sharing its resources with communities striving to reach their full potential is phenomenal, and HOLA is thrilled to be working with them to bring relevant opportunities to our neighborhood.”

The Watts College-HOLA connection exists thanks to Watts College alumnus Alan Adelman, one of HOLA's longest-standing board members and senior equity fund manager and senior equity analyst at Frost Bank.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU grad wondered what it took to be smart — now she’s headed to Harvard

April 29, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

When she was growing up in Jinja, Uganda, Arizona State University senior Leah Nakaima wondered why her teachers paid more attention to the American students. ASU spring 2019 graduate Leah Nakaima Leah Nakaima Download Full Image

They’re smarter than you, the teachers said.

Nakaima, who is graduating this spring with a degree in public health, including a minor in public policy and a certificate in public administration, wondered if it was the food that made American kids smart.

She made it all the way to ASU for college and as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, and in her time as a Sun Devil Nakaima took advantage of everything ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus had to offer, serving in Undergraduate Student Government, participating in Next Generation Service Corps, creating the International Inclusion Club, working on wellness initiatives and volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul. She was admitted to the five-week Public Policy and International Affairs Program, becoming one of the first African students to participate. She wondered why she was chosen, so she asked a recruiter.

“Why did you choose me? I’m from Uganda. I just came here for a college degree,” Nakaima asked.

The recruiter told her, “You’re not only a girl from Uganda. You have way more potential than you may think.”

That was a wake-up call, Nakaima said. The recruiter encouraged her to apply to Ivy League schools for her graduate degree, so Nakaima applied to Brown, Syracuse, NYU, Harvard and Princeton even though she didn’t think she’d get in.

But she did.

After being accepted to and receiving funding packages from nearly every school she applied to, Nakaima decided on Harvard, where she will pursue a master’s degree in the fall.

“It feels overwhelming,” she said. “It’s my dream, but I still don’t believe it.”

Nakaima has learned a lot at ASU, including owning her own intelligence and potential. She said her dad told her when she was a child that people who go to Harvard go on to be presidents, which is appropriate, because Nakaima now sees her dream job within reach.

“My ultimate goal is to become the first female president of Uganda,” Nakaima said.

She’s well on her way. She’ll be shadowing a regional minister in Uganda this summer, and she has a platform in mind that would address the social determinants of health, youth education, entrepreneurship and more.

“I want to be the change,” she said.

As she prepares to take the next steps in her journey, Nakaima spoke with ASU Now about what lessons she has learned at ASU and where she’s headed next.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: When I came to ASU my parents wanted me to be a physician. I dreamed of being the doctor that cures my brother of asthma.

My parents didn’t want to know anything about policy. All they know is, the physicians do the work. They save the people. Telling them that I’m majoring in public health and [with a] public policy minor … [and] I’m thinking of concentrating on public policy, they were like, “Leah what are you doing?”

I tried to explain, “Daddy, you can treat someone, but if there is no law that is making you treat that person, you won’t treat them.” It was hard for me, but finally they are beginning to understand that policy is a way to go.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Treating people the way we want them to treat us.

We may think that is just a saying, but it’s really something big. … You never know what your neighbor is going through.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it’s No. 1 in innovation. When I was in primary school, we had some American children in school. And I remember my teachers treating them really special. As a child, I was like, “Why not me?” And [the teachers] were like, “Oh, they’re smart.” And I was like, “Am I not smart?” And they were like, “But they are smarter than you, and that’s why we give them extra care.”

And I remember reaching out to everyone, my parents, my teachers and the kids, and I’m like, “Hey, what makes you smart? Everyone thinks you’re smart.” And I remember asking questions like, “Is there a food they eat in America that makes them smart? Or is it the upbringing?”

So I chose ASU first because of curiosity. I wanted to come and see what Americans did to be smart. And also because of being No. 1 in innovation.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The professor who taught me the most important lesson in my life is Professor Jerry Oliver. He’s a professor in the [Watts College of] Public Service and Community Solutions.

He’s really great. I remember struggling with assignments and stuff like that, and he reached out to me and he was like, “Leah, if you don’t read you can’t answer anything. And you can’t pass. So you have to learn how to read and talk with people, communicate, tell them what you think and get responses.”

So he taught me how to read. I used to just skim through a textbook but not actually read. … He’s been very supportive. He has taught me how to be strong and hardworking.  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I have two pieces of advice for those still in school. First is get out of your room. If you are in your room, trust me, you are going to sleep or watch a movie or watch videos. … Get your assignments done on time, and [set aside] the last three or two days of your week to just go outside and go to all the extracurricular activities.

The best way I learned how to be confident is by constantly associating with people, talking to people and working with people. So get out of there and let people know you. Speak your truth, and they’ll respect you and correct you if they need to.

And the other thing is, you need to read. There is no way you can learn anything without reading. Yes, you can get word of mouth, but is that really what you want to get? No. You need to get firsthand information. So read your books.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot is the Undergraduate Student Government office. That is located in the Post Office [at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus] on the lower level. 

It’s the one place that I go to when I want to just talk or relax or study. It’s just a convenient environment for everything. There is coffee and snacks. It’s just a great place, and Undergraduate Student Government is something that has totally made my life the way it is right now. Without it I wouldn’t know how much of an influence I could be to fellow students. It empowered me to actually represent students better and actually learn from them.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m planning on leaving Arizona one or two weeks after graduation, and I will go straight to Uganda. First because I miss my family, and second, I want to shadow my regional youth minister. That is like a youth representative in that entire eastern region of Uganda.

I want to learn what he’s doing for the youth in my country because Uganda has the fastest-growing youth population, and that is leaving a lot of youth unemployed and on the streets so I’m curious to learn about what he’s doing and see if that’s a leadership position that I can start with in my country before my ultimate goal [of running for president].

I’ll be returning to the United States in August to report to Harvard. And I’ll be there for two years. But I’m thinking of transitioning from a master of public policy to a law degree.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I’ll just say access. And access is ambiguous. [I have a previous project] I call it Healthy People 2030. … The main goal for Healthy People 2030 is I want to improve health and well-being and the general lifestyle of people from developing countries. That can start in Uganda because I’m from Uganda and then will test the impact it has had and plan on moving it to the East African countries and then all over the world.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Scientists map food supply chains for every US city

What data tool says is bigger than just where your food comes from; it shows how the fates of far-flung communities are closely connected

April 29, 2019

No matter where you are in the United States, the food on your plate probably started its life in Fresno, California. Vegetables follow a complex supply chain that moves bumper crops of delectable lettuce, tomatoes, fruits and nuts from where they’re grown to where they’re used.

How do we know? New data from the FEWSION Project, led by Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University scientists, can now illustrate how every corner of America is connected. A pickup truck whose bed is filled with cauliflower Vegetables follow a complex supply chain that moves crops around the country according to demand. Photo by Pattymooney (Patty Mooney, San Diego, California) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (] Download Full Image

FEWSION is a data fusion project that maps the food, energy and water supply chains for every community in the United States.

Making big data more accessible to policymakers and the community is part of the core mission of ASU’s Decision Theater. They took on the FEWSION project to visualize solutions to complex problems like feeding the nation in a more sustainable way amidst the challenges of severe weather or climate.

“The FEWSION project helps us to understand and visualize the links between the food, energy and water systems, and this knowledge is necessary to develop strategies for more coherent and integrated policies,” said Dave White, who is looking at similar problems as a professor in the ASU School of Community Resources and Development and director of the Decision Center for a Desert City. “With the insights generated by FEWSION, decision-makers can develop an integrated policy approach that considers all three sectors simultaneously to maximize efficiencies, optimize trade-offs and reduce risks.”

Ramesh Gorantla, a software development lead at the Decision Theater and part of the FEWSION team, said the project has the potential to enhance the supply chain and make communities more resilient.

“The [FEW-View] tool performs massive big-data computations and displays the queried results in an intuitive way so an ordinary public user can use the data,” said Gorantla.

Those maps are now available for public use through the FEW-View website, allowing people to see whether their gas prices could be affected by a Gulf Coast hurricane or how much New Englanders should worry about water shortages on the other side of the country. (Answers: Possibly and a lot.)

Ben Ruddell, an associate professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, led the multi-institution team of engineers and data scientists.

“This is a way to see that big data, to see your supply chains, see your lifelines,” Ruddell said. “We look at exposure. If you have a lot of exposure in your supply chain, there is a strong potential for you to be affected by a drought, storm or decision far away.”

This data was collected by hundreds of researchers at federal agencies and universities throughout the country and for the first time has been put into a searchable and visual form for anyone to use.

With FEWSION, people can map the sources of their community’s animal products, grains, meat and other foodstuffs; crude oil, gasoline, natural gas and electricity; and water sources. This is useful information for people who want to buy more local products or measure the sustainability of the community’s food and energy consumption, but the purpose of this data is far greater.

Ruddell sees FEWSION being especially useful for emergency managers, who can use it to plan ahead if a disaster or situation in some other part of the country is likely to affect their community; and sustainability officers who want to reduce their community’s footprint by changing their commodity sourcing and supply chains. He also encouraged K-12 and higher education teachers to introduce their students to the FEWSION website, which features video, a podcast, news, publications and links to other educational supply chain content and programs.

Richard Rushforth, the lead research scientist on the FEWSION project for NAU, produced all of the data for the first version of FEWSION. It’s a game-changer, he said.

“People want to know: How am I impacted locally? How is something happening on the other side of the country going to affect my life here?” he said. “Being able to have that data on hand visually and to be able to explore it is a really valuable tool.”

For people wondering how to apply the program, here’s an example: FEWSION’s website illustrates the supply chains linking New York City to Otter Tail County, Minnesota; Forsyth County, North Carolina; Bonneville County, Idaho; Monona County, Iowa; Yuma County, Arizona; and about half of California. These connections show more than the routes lettuce, almonds, citrus, fuel and other commodities take to get to the country’s biggest city. FEWSION visualizes the relationships that tie the United States together — relationships that often are invisible to the consumer but are evidence that Americans, for all their differences, are inextricably connected to one another, Ruddell said.

“Rural Americans and urban Americans are different in many ways,” he said. “Their politics are very different, their lifestyles are different, but they depend on each other completely because of their supply chains. In particular, city dwellers need to understand that they get much of their food, clean water and energy from rural Americans and from communities throughout the country. Without this kind of mapping, city dwellers can’t see that connection, and because they don’t see, they don’t understand that they’re exporting their environmental problems and food and energy production to their rural neighbors.

“When you see those connections, you can understand how to vote and spend your dollars in ways that benefit everyone — urban and rural — because we’re all part of the same system.”

In addition to understanding that no city is a resource island, this knowledge also empowers communities to invest in the security, resilience and sustainability of their supply chains.

For example, the current drought emergency of the Colorado River is not just a regional problem, Ruddell said. If farms in Arizona or California run out of water, the supply of produce is reduced and the price of healthy, fresh food goes up nationwide.

“Members of the public should know where their food, energy and water are coming from, to understand how connected they are,” he said. “That can affect the way they see the world, and it can make you realize that problems in other places — other people’s problems — are actually your problems too, and that changes everything about the way we see the world. It can change the way we vote; it can change our priorities.

“Information is power — the power to create positive change.”

To see where your community’s food, water and energy comes from and to discover how FEWSION can benefit educators, emergency managers, community leaders and sustainability officers, visit

FEWSION was funded in 2016 by a grant from the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems program (#INFEWS ACI-1639529), which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications