Rice University

Rice University Center for Civic Leadership

Current HART Projects

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Improving Pretrial Procedures (Fall 2019)

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) advances solutions and builds coalitions to reduce mass incarceration and foster safer Texas communities. This project will support the TCJC by researching effective ways to help ensure defendants are present at court hearings and testing various methods to determine best practices moving forward. In June 2017, a federal judge issued a historic ruling finding Harris County’s bail bond system unconstitutional. Since this landmark ruling, the eyes of the country have been watching Houston as local officials have struggled to implement reform. Much of the bail bond discussion centers on what can be done, both by community advocates and system actors, in order to ensure pretrial release for most defendants while also ensuring defendants appear at their court hearings and the preservation of public safety. This HART project would look deeply at the pretrial process, including placing Rice students in courtrooms to conduct research.

Students:

Gabrielle Humphrey, Policy Studies & Sociology
Elaine Hennig, Sociology

Eli Mensing, Economics
Ashley Nguyen, Sociology

Team Coach: 

Asia Bento, Sociology

Community Partner Advisor:

Jay Jenkins, J.D.

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Quantifying the Value of Ecosystem Services (Fall 2019)

Plant It Forward (PIF)’s mission is to offer economically disadvantaged refugees an opportunity to become self-sufficient through growing, harvesting and selling produce from a sustainable urban farm within the city of Houston. In collaboration with Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), Plant it Forward seeks to quantify the value of the ecosystem services provided by their urban farms. Placing a value on ecosystem services -- i.e., the varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly functioning ecosystems -- would allow PIF to determine if their sustainable farming methods are preserving water resources, preventing erosion, increasing soil fertility, and/or providing other vital benefits to the broader Houston area. Being able to measure the benefits of having farms in an urban setting would further enable PIF to justify to policymakers, developers, donors and other stakeholders the advantages of setting aside land specifically for farming.

Students:

Michael Calhoun, Environmental Science & Biochemical and Cell Biology
Aurora Kesler, Anthroplogy
Alyssa Graham, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Isabella Gutierrez, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & Environmental Studies

Team Coach: 

Matt Lamb, Political Science

Faculty Advisors:

Richard Johnson, Environmental Studies 

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Helping Voters Choose Among Judicial Candidates (Fall 2019)

Harris County voters confront ballots with dozens of judicial candidates about whom they have limited information. The Houston Chronicle serves as an important resource for educating voters about candidates through their endorsements. The Chronicle seeks to base its evaluations on the candidates’ qualifications and record, not their partisan or ideological affiliation. However, the sheer volume of contesting candidates tests the time and resources of staff and volunteers and makes the continued informed evaluation of judicial candidates difficult, if not impossible. 2020 will be the first year where straight ticket voting is disallowed in Texas. This change is likely to encourage the proliferation of partisan slates and put more pressure on the non-partisan endorsement groups to make dispassionate candidate information widely available. As a result, the Chronicle, as one of the key voices in the endorsement process in the city, seeks to supplement and upgrade its existing screening process. 

Students:

Carolyn Daly, History & Social Policy Analysis
Moses Glickman, Mathematical Economics & Social Policy Analysis
Claire Noel, Political Science & Social Policy Analysis
Mason Reece, Political Science & Cognitative Science

Team Coach: 

Steven Perry, Political Science

Faculty Advisor:

Bob Stein, Political Science