Using social science research to impact the juvenile justice system
By Kris Scott
As an assistant research professor at the Social Science Research Center (SSRC), Sheena Gardner is working to transform the stigma behind the Mississippi juvenile justice system.
“There is value in the work I do. I want to help youth involved in juvenile justice become productive citizens in the world,” Gardner said.
Specializing in data collection, data management, and manuscript development, Gardner’s work focuses on the implementation and evaluation of social problems. Specifically, her work addresses the causes and effects such problems have on youth entangled in Mississippi’s juvenile justice system.
She attributes her interest in juvenile justice to the work she completed on SSRC Associate Director Angela Robertson’s Juvenile Justice Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System project. As a member of the implementation team, Gardner was responsible for serving as a facilitator in participating courts, conducting needs assessments, providing training on data-driven decision making, and generating site feedback reports.
“I really had no interest or knowledge about juvenile justice until that project,” said Gardner. “Because of the work I completed on the National Institute of Health project, I became more knowledgeable and comfortable in the work I was doing within Mississippi’s justice system. Eventually, I developed a sense of purpose and belonging.”
Even further, Gardner expressed how the dedication of court officers and staff inspired her to continue her research regarding juvenile justice.
“Working on the National Institute of Health project, I gained valuable insight into how difficult the jobs of court officers and staff are. Witnessing them work in such a stressful environment inspired me to help, just in a different capacity,” she said.
In addition to her work within the juvenile justice system, Gardner has worked with numerous administrative databases and state agencies that include the Mississippi Alcohol Safety Education Program, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
Referencing her work with administrative databases, state agencies and the juvenile justice system, Gardner is appreciative of the SSRC. She credits her various experiences and roles within the SSRC for influencing the confidence she feels in her positon today.
“When you reach a point in your career where you have the knowledge and experience to be able to teach other people how to complete or perform various tasks, you’ve really accomplished something,” Gardner said.
Starting as a graduate research assistant in the Wolfgang Frese Survey Research Laboratory, Gardner has been involved with the SSRC since 2005. In 2008, she began working as a research associate, and upon receiving her Ph.D. in 2014, she completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship.
In these various roles, Gardner has collaborated with multiple researchers, most notably Connie Baird-Thomas, Associate Director of the Social Science Center for Policy Studies, and Angela Robertson. Together, they lead the newly developed Evaluation and Research Group.
“While we all work individually on our projects, we are also very collaborative,” said Gardner. “Getting advice and help in such a diverse research environment is crucial for success.”
Additionally, Gardner has participated in the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Juvenile Justice Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System. As a member of the implementation team, Gardner was responsible for serving as a facilitator in participating courts, conducting needs assessments, providing training on data-driven decision making, and generating site feedback reports.
Also noteworthy, Gardner has served as Principle Investigator (PI). Current projects involve work with the Rankin County Youth Court’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, the Mississippi State Department of Health, Office of Tobacco Control, and the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
As PI for these various projects, Gardner was tasked with completing a wide range of objectives. Some of these include monitoring the project’s adherence to ethical practice standards, tracking participant outcomes, compiling and reporting juvenile delinquency, finalizing logic models, and ensuring that short, intermediate, and long-term goals are measurable.
Summarizing everything she has done in the past, and everything she plans to do in the future, Gardner said the work she and other researchers are contributing to society is impactful.
“It’s awesome that us researchers at the SSRC are conducting research and carrying out projects that has and will continue to impact people,” she said.