Tales from the data enclave: An Interview with Dr. Butler from Sam Houston State University

By Chelsea Samples-Steele

ICPSR offers researchers access to highly sensitive data via its Physical Data Enclave (PDE) – a secure data environment located at ICPSR’s offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) disseminates several studies via the PDE, including two important data series commissioned by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): The Deaths in Custody Reporting Program and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) series.

Accessing these data can be difficult for researchers residing far away from Ann Arbor. However, for those able to make the trip, these data provide an opportunity to make unique contributions to criminological knowledge. In July 2018, Dr. H. Daniel Butler, an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, traveled to Ann Arbor to analyze data from the PREA series. The following is an excerpt from our conversation with Dr. Butler regarding his visit.

(L to R) Dr. H. Daniel Butler (Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University) visits with NACJD staff Nathan Kujacznski (Research Technician for User Experience), Arun Mathur (Data Services Specialist), and Chelsea Samples-Steele (Project Manager for User Experience) in July. Photo by Dory Knight-Ingram

Can you tell us something about your research? Which dataset(s) did you use and why was it important for you to use these data?

I analyzed data from the 2011-2012 National Inmate Survey (NIS) that is collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The data provide considerable insight into the reporting behaviors of inmates who experience sexual victimization while incarcerated. To date, few studies have examined whether inmates report sexual assaults to correctional administrators. Such an examination may provide insight as to how correctional administrators may increase reporting behaviors in addition to reducing sexual assaults across prisons.

How long did you stay in Ann Arbor and was your visit supported by external funds?

I was in Ann Arbor for 11 days. My trip was funded by Sam Houston State University’s External Grant Application Development System, which assists faculty who are in the process of pursuing funding opportunities. It is my goal to apply for funding to support a project that examines sexual victimization across prisons.

Can you describe what it was like to work within the PDE?

I had a great experience due in large part to the supportive and patient staff at NACJD and ICPSR. NACJD Director Jukka Savolainen played a pivotal role in helping me explore the idea and feasibility of traveling to Ann Arbor to analyze data. Chelsea Samples-Steele, Justin Noble, Nathan Kujacznski, and Arun Mathur (NACJD Staff) accommodated my data requests and questions in a timely manner that made working at Ann Arbor an enjoyable and productive experience.

It sounds like you were you satisfied with the experience. Did you accomplish what you were hoping to do?

Yes, I am very satisfied with my experience, and I would recommend others who are interested in examining data that is difficult to collect due to resources or sensitivity of the topic to consider traveling to ICPSR’s PDE. I accomplished my research objectives, and I hope to publish the manuscripts in high quality peer-reviewed journals.

Do you have any advice for other scholars thinking about conducting research inside the PDE?

My advice is to study the codebooks thoroughly prior to arriving at the PDE. I am fortunate to have extensive experience working with other large inmate datasets (Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities), which aided me in the timely cleaning of data, so I could promptly address my research questions. I also recommend to researchers to inform the NACJD staff about the resources you will need well in advance of your visit. This will ensure you have everything you need upon your arrival. The staff were very accommodating when I requested to have new articles or user-written statistical commands added to my workstation.

Thank you, Dan. We were delighted to host you. Good luck with your research!


For more information:

Data enclaves at ICPSR

The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD)


Aug 9, 2018

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