Graduate Student Honored with American Psychology-Law Society Award
Hannah Baldwin, who will graduate in May from the M.A. Forensic & Legal Psychology program, received recognition for her novel research on discrimination in the criminal justice system.
PHILADELPHIA – Hannah Baldwin, a second-year graduate student in RWU’s M.A. Forensic & Legal Psychology program, was feeling a little overwhelmed as she defended her thesis and took stock of the work she needed to finish before graduating this May.
So, when the news that she had won an award from the American Psychology-Law Society appeared in her email inbox, she felt uplifted. “It was an incredibly exciting moment to win this award,” said Baldwin, of Millersburg, Penn.
For her master’s thesis research, which is focused on discrimination in the criminal justice system, Baldwin received the “Outstanding Student Presentation in Novel-Topic Research” award at the American Psychology-Law Society annual conference held in Philadelphia last month.
“This really solidified for me that I want to be in this field, doing research, and using it to make a change in the world,” she said. “Being recognized for my hard work was an uplifting experience. I am even more determined now to make a difference.”
In the email informing her of the award, AP-LS leaders expressed how impressed they were with Baldwin’s research. “We received many great submissions this year, and yours emerged as a significantly meaningful and important contribution to the field,” it read. “All reviewers scored your presentation very highly and were very impressed.”
Professor Matt Zaitchik, Baldwin’s advisor, said that Baldwin won this award over doctoral candidates from around the U.S. and Canada and noted that AP-LS is the most competitive conference for researchers in the psychology and law field. Along with the recognition, she also won a cash prize.
“This is a pretty big deal,” Zaitchik said. “Our master program students have done extremely well over the years at AP-LS, but this is the first award of this type for our grad students.”
Baldwin, who has a B.S. in Psychology and an A.A. in Criminal Justice from Lock Haven University, had the opportunity to present her research during the conference.
Baldwin’s research examines racial and socioeconomic discrimination in sentencing and set bail amount. Her study looked at potential jury members’ perceptions of defendants based on a defendant’s ability or inability to meet their bail, including how long a defendant should serve and how dangerous they seemed. Baldwin noted that few studies have explored the impact that cash bail might have on sentencing decisions.
As part of the study, she looked at differences in potential jurors’ attributional complexity (AC), which is the ability to consider many factors at one time to explain another individual’s behavior, and how their AC influenced their decisions. People with a lower AC are more likely to stereotype others, Baldwin said. She observed that participants with low AC gave white defendants who made bail the lowest sentence compared to Black, Hispanic, and not identified defendants who made bail, while people with high AC gave white defendants who made bail the longest sentences.
“We found some really cool results looking at this factor. It’s something that should be considered by jury consultants, so we’re not having entire juries that are mostly low AC or high AC, making the jury imbalanced,” Baldwin said.
Ideally, she’d like her research to continue, eventually being used to shape policy changes related to bail and sentencing. “I hope future researchers could apply this to judges, prosecutors, and public defenders to see how AC influences their own decision-making,” she said.
After graduating from RWU and taking at least a year to work, Baldwin said she plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in public policy and law, hoping to make a career advocating for policy changes related to the criminal justice system.
When considering graduate schools, Baldwin knew she didn’t want to do anything clinical-related and liked that Roger’s Forensic & Legal Psychology graduate program includes a research-specific thesis track. “It’s so beneficial to have, create, and do research,” she said. “It’s imperative to everything we do. And for clinicians – they rely on the latest research.”
Working with Zaitchik as her advisor has been wonderful, she said, noting that he’s been incredibly supportive of her research. The two are planning to write a publication as soon as she submits her thesis.
Zaitchik said he believes Baldwin has a bright future in psychology and law. “She is extremely diligent and bright and unrelenting in her interest in doing meaningful research,” he said.
The Forensic & Legal Psychology program has been challenging but enjoyable while preparing Baldwin for her future, she said. “I’ve definitely grown. I’m a better writer and a better researcher.”
While at Roger, Baldwin had two internships with the state of Rhode Island: one with the Access to Justice office and the other as part of a policy team looking at crisis intervention training for police officers and critical time intervention for people re-entering society from prison.
“As a graduate student, you have to find opportunities. Make connections, do internships,” Baldwin said. In addition to working two jobs as a graduate assistant for the Center for Student Academic Success and a graduate program ambassador, Baldwin also serves as the president of RWU’s Graduate Student Association.
“I knew I wanted to be involved on campus, especially with graduate students,” she said. “Being able to work with groups of people, connect them with resources, be an advocate for them … in the end that’s what I want to do for people.”
Her two years at Roger have been busy, but would Baldwin change anything? “No. Absolutely not,” she said. “It’s been crazy, but I’ve loved it.”