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Sheriff Wants Evidence on Inmate Programs

Research Will Guide Decisions

Sheriff MOU signing
Chancellor Meehan, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Prof. James Byrne sign partnership agreement for research.


Sandra Seitz

Saying that his experience in the Legislature taught him the importance of “data-driven decisions,” Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian turned to UMass Lowell to do the necessary research to prevent recidivism and protect public safety. 

Koutoujian and Chancellor Marty Meehan signed an agreement last month, establishing the first-ever research partnership between the law enforcement agency and UMass Lowell. Through the partnership, UMass Lowell Prof. James Byrne will lead research to provide the Sheriff’s Office with data on what works – in performance management, inmate programs and policy formation. Students in UMass Lowell’s new doctoral program in criminal justice and criminology will conduct research with Byrne.

“I’ve seen programs that made perfect sense on a piece of paper, but sometimes didn’t show results and that is not fruitful for anybody,” said Koutoujian, whose office is responsible for approximately 1,400 pre-trial detainees and inmates at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica and the Cambridge Jail. The average inmate at the House of Correction is incarcerated for 240 days; the maximum sentence is two-and-a-half years.

"Together We'll Do Great Things"

“We have what I think are good programs for inmates, but we can make better decisions based on knowing what programs work,” said Koutoujian. “Having this research partnership will allow us to obtain the longitudinal, in-depth, more qualitative kind of data we’re looking for. Together we’ll do great things.”

The Ph.D. program in criminal justice and criminology opens this fall, and will start with 10 doctoral candidates. Meehan described the program as “interdisciplinary and scholarly, with faculty who are leaders in conducting large-scale national research projects, while also working collaboratively with communities and agencies on strategic problem-solving, crime analysis, evaluation research and policy analysis.”

Koutoujian, a former prosecutor and state representative, was appointed sheriff in January by Gov. Deval Patrick. Byrne served on Koutoujian’s transition team.

Byrne, a nationally recognized authority on recidivism, inmate behavior and prison culture, will collaborate with the sheriff's office on planning national conferences on key topics in law enforcement, starting with issues of “safe release” – strategies and best practices for inmate re-entry into the community.