The Urban Institute, with support from Arnold Ventures, announced on January 13 the establishment of the Prison Research and Innovation Network. The network is a core component of the Urban Institute’s Prison Research and Innovation Initiative, a comprehensive effort to build evidence and spur innovation to make prisons more humane, safe, and rehabilitative.

The network will use research, data, and evidence to inspire improvements in prison environments. Five states have been chosen for Phase I of the project—Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri and Vermont.

As one of the participants, Vermont’s State Department of Corrections will receive a grant of $100,000 to support the hiring of a full-time prison research innovation manager to work onsite in the pilot facility at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt. The University of Vermont will receive an additional $100,000 annually to partner with the Department of Corrections to engage in research activities and help build the state’s capacity for data and research for justice-related issues.

Kathy Fox, UVM professor of sociology, and Abigail Crocker, research assistant professor of statistics, are the UVM faculty members who are teaming up to assist the Department of Corrections in developing the research methodology and analyzing the data. 

“Participation in the Prison Research and Innovation Network is a great opportunity for Vermont to work on prison reform efforts, benefiting from a learning community of experts across the country,” says Crocker. “Grounding the process in data and research will ensure that we understand the impact of our efforts and ensure the changes we make are moving us in a positive direction. We’re excited to partner with our colleagues at the Vermont Department of Corrections and learn with and from the other state’s participating in the Network.”

The guidelines for acceptance into the Network required states to identify a specific correctional facility, with at least a 300-person capacity, to pilot their change efforts. The plan is to learn from these initial efforts and expand successful findings to other facilities across the state. 

The University of Vermont is already an active collaborator with the Vermont State Department of Corrections through the Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) established in 2017 and directed by Fox. UVM faculty members have since taught university-level courses in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for women in South Burlington and Northwest State Correctional Facility for men in Swanton, Vt.

“We’re able to bring our knowledge of the criminal justice system and research expertise to identify promising policies that maintain public safety while reducing costs and creating a more equitable and effective criminal justice system,” Fox said.

“We look forward to supporting Vermont in its efforts to employ research and data to improve prison culture, operations, and design and create more humane and rehabilitative correction environments,” said Dr. Nancy La Vigne, vice president of justice policy at the Urban Institute. “The state’s leadership and commitment to transparency and accountability will help spur lasting change for people who live and work in prisons.”

The Urban Institute is a leading research organization dedicated to developing evidence-based insights that improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For 50 years, Urban has been the trusted source for rigorous analysis of complex social and economic issues; strategic advice to policymakers, philanthropists, and practitioners; and new, promising ideas that expand opportunities for all. Urban’s work inspires effective decisions that advance fairness and enhance the well-being of people and places.

Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. They invest in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence. They drive public conversation, craft policy, and inspire action through education and advocacy.


Kevin Coburn
UVM Professor of Sociology Kathy Fox
Abigail Crocker, Research Assistant Professor of Statistics