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CJ Undergrads Win Summer Research Award

Three undergraduate students will study the new Three Strikes Law in New Zealand as part of SHSU’s first summer research award.

Three undergraduate students from the College of Criminal Justice will spend the summer researching a new “three-strikes” law half a world away.

Sara Winbigler, Kevin Madden and Kelsie Newman were among three teams awarded the first Undergraduate Research Summer Stipend at Sam Houston State University. Along with faculty adviser Dr. Matt Nobles, the students will study the impact of a new three-strikes law enacted in New Zealand in 2010, which imposes harsher sentences on people convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. The students will have the opportunity to travel to Brisbane in October to present their findings at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology’s 26th annual conference.

Winbigler, a junior in the Honors College, developed the proposal after completing an evaluation of American three-strikes law for a class. She soon learned that New Zealand was the most recent country in the world to adopt the crime-fighting strategy.

“I am really interested in the law and policy analysis and the Honors College has helped me to branch out and given me new ways to do things,” said Winbigler. “I am very excited about this opportunity, and so grateful that Dr. Nobles is mentoring me. I hope this project is the first of many! It is very important to build these relationships in an undergrad career, and it can be difficult when the faculty is overwhelmed with other obligations. Dr. Nobles has really gone above and beyond to help me and my undergrad career would be nothing special if not for him."

Winbigler will be joined by fellow Honors College student Madden and CJ major Newman in the project, which will provide a cross cultural analysis of three strikes laws. The study also will be presented at SHSU’s Seventh Annual Graduate Research Symposium in April 2014.

“The project is a great opportunity to expand as a student and prepare for further education in the CJ field,” said Newman.

Dr. Nobles obtained official statistics on crime from the New Zealand Police, and the student awardees will evaluate the changes in crime rates before and after the new law was enacted on several different crime categories, including violent and non-violent offenses. The study also will examine the social and political context of the law, which inspired considerable debate. Published studies evaluating American three strikes law have generally concluded that the policy does not have a measurable effect on crime rates, Nobles said.

Dr. Nobles said the summer stipend is part of the University’s overall research mission and provides an opportunity for students to pursue graduate studies. It also will allow students to network with faculty and other researchers in the field.

“These are among our very best and brightest students,” Dr. Nobles said.

The SHSU Ad Hoc Undergraduate Research Committee reviewed 43 applications, including four from the College of Criminal Justice, before selecting the proposed project along with two others.

“The committee believes most of the submissions were of exceptional quality and that they represented an ongoing commitment from faculty, departments and colleges, to undergraduate research experiences already taking place on our campus,” the committee said in announcing the winner.

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