Soc 320 Research Opportunity, Spring 2021: Prosecutorial Decision-Making Across Contexts

Term: Spring 2021 (Soc 320, Section 235)
Status: Open
Contact: Please contact Chiara Packard with your resume and cover letter (see details below) to apply for this position. It is available for 1-3 credits.
Description: The prosecutor is one of the most powerful actors in the US criminal justice system. Robert Jackson once said, “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous.” Prosecutors decide whether to drop charges or bring a case against a defendant, which charges to pursue, and what kind of sentence to recommend to the judge. Yet, we know little about how and why prosecutors make their charging decisions and how variations in context can shape the use of prosecutorial discretion. Through interviews, observations, and analysis of court documents in multiple District Attorney’s offices across Wisconsin, this research project will contribute to our understanding of the factors that shape prosecutorial decision-making across different contexts.
Duties: The Undergraduate Research Assistant will contribute to this research project in several ways: 1) They will listen to, transcribe, and take notes on interviews with prosecutors and staff in DA offices. Notes for each interview will be expected to be 1-3 paragraphs in length. 2) They will code interviews using a list of codes/themes provided by the primary researcher. The primary researcher will provide training and guidance on coding, which consists of reading through the interviews and highlighting themes/core areas of interest.
Expectations for how quantity and quality of work will translate to time spent: The primary researcher will expect the RA to keep an up to date work log of the time they spend working on this project. They will meet weekly and set goals for the number of interviews to transcribe/code each week. In order to assure quality of work for the interview transcribing, the primary researcher will review the first couple transcriptions. In order to assure quality of work for the coding, the primary researcher will co-code 1-2 interviews with the RA and they will meet to discuss any discrepancies in coding patterns. If the RA 1) maintains a work log throughout the entire semester, 2) demonstrates they are putting in the necessary hours each week and meeting the expected goals determined in weekly meetings, and 3) demonstrates a willingness to learn coding techniques and engage in the coding process thoughtfully with a willingness to learn from mistakes, then they will receive an A.
Readings: Excerpts from Weiss, Robert S. 1997. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies.
Meetings: The Undergraduate Research Assistant will meet weekly with the primary researcher to discuss progress and go over any questions. Time and day of meetings will be determined in consultation with the RA during the first week of classes.
To Apply: To apply, please send the following to Chiara Packard at by January 18, 2021:
1) A resume
2) A cover letter (no more than 1-page) describing why you would like to participate in this research practicum, why you think you would be a good fit for this position, and any relevant experience you have either with qualitative coding or in the area of criminal justice.
Preference will be given to applicants who have experience with qualitative coding and/or a demonstrated interest in criminal justice, inequality, and/or prosecutorial discretion. However, you are encouraged to apply even if you do not have this experience!