Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

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OSU-CHS News > 2016

March 24, 2016

OSU-CHS forensic sciences students examine incarceration, drug and mental health programs


As head of the forensic psychology track in the School of Forensic Sciences at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Ron Thrasher, Ph.D., oversees a broad array of graduate student research projects – from studying the effectiveness of drug courts to using new technology to solve cold case murders.

“As a 35-year law enforcement retiree, I have a focus and intent that my students’ research interests are mine as well,” said Thrasher, associate professor of forensic sciences. “I support my students in individual research projects that are beneficial to society and the students themselves.”

Forensic psychology is the application of behavioral sciences within the field of law and criminal justice. One of the fastest-growing disciplines within psychology, the demand for forensic psychologists is anticipated to increase 14 percent by 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The field encompasses diverse approaches to psychology and research topics may include criminal behavior, the death penalty, victimization, violence risk, juvenile offenders, mental health and many other behavioral aspects related to the legal system.

Thrasher said one of his graduate students is analyzing the effectiveness of the drug court system. Drug courts typically send addicts to treatment instead of prison and they are a relatively new approach to addressing drug addiction in the legal system.

“We spend $25,000 a year to keep a person in prison for a long time with high recidivism rates,” Thrasher said. “Twenty-six years ago, we started sending people to treatment rather than prison. We now spend about $5,000 each year to send a person to an 18-month treatment program with one-third of the recidivism rate as prison.”

Other student projects focus on increasing resources to meet the special needs of the 6,000 Oklahoma children whose parents are incarcerated and examining how children’s interactions with day care institutions affect their behavior later in life.

“We have a system where many of us leave our children with day care providers 50 hours each week, essentially making caregivers their co-parents,” Thrasher said. “The question is how that might influence the development of a child.”

Thrasher said one of his students is studying 15 years of autopsy and medical examiner records to isolate domestic violence murders. The idea is to use the information to track changes and discover trends in domestic homicide and to figure out how that information might be used in prevention efforts or investigative techniques.

Another area of study is an examination of how law enforcement methods for minor offenses, such as littering, vagrancy or public drunkenness, influence law enforcement and trends in major crimes, such as murder or rape.

While analyzing 10 unsolved homicides in three states that are believed to have been committed by the same killer, one student is looking to see if social media and new technologies might resurrect that cold case and others.

“Basically, OSU is a land grant university. Our students embrace that and our research is very grounded,” Thrasher said. “We are looking for ways to improve the lives of people in Oklahoma and people in this country.”

Learn more about research at OSU-CHS at the Research Spotlight website.

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