Fellowships Pave Way to Research in Forensics, CJ

Fellowship

Three graduate students, Stephanie Basiliere, Cassie Mayes and Meghan Mitchell, received prestigious federal fellowships.

Three doctoral students in the College of Criminal Justice received fellowships to pursue research in their fields.

In the Department of Forensic Science, Stephanie Basiliere and Carrie Mayes received the prestigious National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), which offers financial support to doctoral students engaged in research of interest to the NIJ. Basiliere is developing a forensic toxicology method for detecting the presence of a Southeast Asian plant that produces both stimulant and sedative effects and is legally sold in smoke shops and on the Internet. Mayes is testing microRNA markers that identify the origin of bodily fluids recovered as evidence in criminal cases.

In the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Meghan Mitchell received fellowships from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Charles Koch Foundation to pursue her dissertation research, which examines the influence of the convict code on inmate misconduct, victimization, and attitudes.

“Our stellar students, under the mentorship of our outstanding faculty, continue to be rewarded for their insightful, innovative, and rigorous approaches to research addressing contemporary problems in the field," said Dr. Phillip Lyons, Dean of the College of Criminal Justice and Director of the Criminal Justice Center. "These fellowships do much more than simply reward these efforts, though; they advance practice through elucidation of the underlying problems, advancing a proven solution, or both.”

This is the second year in a row that students in the Ph.D. program in Forensic Science received NIJ
Fellowships since the program began in 2015, with the honor previously awarded to Amy Sorensen, Rachel Houston, and Jessica Winborn. Basiliere, a third-year doctoral student, is working with Dr. Sarah Kerrigan investigating the use of liquid chromatography-quadrupole time-of-flight-mass spectrometry (LC-qTOF-MS) to detect Kratom alkaloids in forensic toxicology investigations. Some states have banned or limited the sale of the drug, which produces effects similar to opiates.

“Kratom was traditionally used in Thailand as a herbal medication and cultural practice for many years, but recently, use of the drug for recreational use has rapidly increased in the United States,” said Basiliere. “Most forensic toxicology laboratories do not currently test for the drug, so information in criminal and death investigation casework is limited and can lead to under-reporting.”

Mayes, a first-year Ph.D. student, is working with Dr. Sheree Hughes-Stamm to develop a panel of microRNAs markers to help identify body fluids in criminal investigations, such as sexual assault cases. Currently, the methods used do not provide the specificity required by the field. This method may help identify body fluids to link a suspect or victims to a crime or to provide context to the events of the crime.

Mayes said scientists in the Netherlands and Australia are testing messenger RNA to identify bodily fluids, but she believes the microRNA may be a more stable element because they are small and attach to a protein, which is less susceptible to degradation.

Mitchell is examining the convict code—which is an informal set of rules used by inmates that values toughness, minding one’s own business, and social distance from prison staff—and the relationship it has on inmate misconduct, victimization and attitudes. Among the attitudes measured are readiness for change, locus of control, and self-advocacy. Mitchell is working under the mentorship of Dr. Melinda Tasca.

The study has implications for policies and practices in correctional systems, such as risk assessment, classification, treatment, and reentry planning. The findings will be shared with the Koch Foundation and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and a webinar will be produced for Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice and the Correctional Management Institute of Texas.

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