UCLA Law Behind Bars Data Project seeks Research Director (Full-Time, Remote Position)

Organizational Background

American prisons are deadly but obscure places. The Behind Bars Data Project’s carceral mortality database is the only comprehensive, public accounting of the most basic fact about mortality behind bars: how many people died across state and federal prisons in recent years. Beginning in 2019—just before prisons and jails across the country became the epicenters of COVID outbreaks—the federal government effectively ceased its publication, and much of its collection, of carceral mortality data. This reporting failure seriously impedes the public’s ability to know who is dying in prison, and why, what racial disparities exist in mortality outcomes, and, ultimately, what can be done to reduce preventable deaths, improve conditions inside, and hold officials accountable. The Behind Bars Data Project’s data and analyses serve as a partial replacement for—and, in significant ways, improvement upon—the reporting that the federal government has effectively ended.

The Behind Bars Data Project obtains and cleans data from public records requests, compiles and publishes the data, and employs established public health research methodologies to understand its implications. Via its research and advocacy, the Project supports further oversight and reform of prison systems around the country while advocating for a renewed federal commitment to documenting deaths in custody. In addition, the Project collaborates with advocates, reporters, researchers, litigators, policymakers, and more to make sure that data are available, intelligible, and usable for their purposes.

The Behind Bars Data Project launched in March 2020 (as the COVID Behind Bars Data Project) and has tracked the spread and impact of COVID in U.S. carceral facilities. It has become the leading data resource for understanding COVID in prisons. Fearing that the public would never know the true impact of the pandemic on incarcerated people without an accounting of the deaths that occurred, the Project began a large-scale effort to document deaths in custody within all U.S. prison systems.

With a new two-year funding commitment to begin in February 2023, the Project will transition to a focus on all-cause mortality in U.S. prisons. The Project’s research agenda will include national- and state-level demography of mortality in prisons and case studies on facility-level prison conditions that may drive mortality.

We are a small team and work collaboratively, though remotely. The work we produce is intended for both technical and broader public audiences. Examples include the following:

Research Director Position Description

The Project seeks a Research Director to work with the team’s Data Scientist to:

  • Create a strategic vision for the expanded collection and processing of data
  • Develop and lead the team’s research agenda utilizing the collected data, along with other publicly available datasets; this will include presentations, manuscripts, and other writing for academic and various other audiences (e.g., the public, journalists, legislators, litigators, advocates, funders)
  • Conduct short-term analyses for organizational partners when we can provide support for their priorities
  • Remain an active member of the larger prison conditions research community, including a new, national convening on carceral death data
  • Develop and review reproducible code to integrate and standardize disparate datasets
  • Support web development contractor’s creation of interactive webpages to allow the public to easily understand and manipulate data, as our existing website allows for COVID data
  • Collaborate with Project Director and Data Scientist on creation of advisory committee and development of meeting agendas.

The Research Director will supervise the team’s Data Scientist. While the Research Director will learn from the Project’s previous research on COVID and carceral settings, our carceral mortality research agenda will be a significant pivot for the team. As such, the Research Director will be responsible for new project plans, methodological strategies, outreach to other researchers, incorporation of outside datasets, and internal collaborations to maximize impact on policy and practice.


  • The Research Director will be a public health expert, preferably with specialty experience in epidemiological research involving vulnerable—and ideally justice-involved—populations.
  • Required qualifications include the following:
  • Ph.D. in public health, demography, sociology, or related social science field or an equivalent combination of education and research experience;
  • Experience planning and executing quantitative including data collection, cleaning, analysis, and publication;
  • Experience establishing relationships and working with diverse collaborators (e.g. local advocates, government officials, and journalists) with varying levels of technical literacy;
  • Strong organizational skills for project planning, data collection procedures, and conduct of complex research activities;
  • Ability to prioritize and effectively manage workload with multiple deadlines;
  • Outstanding leadership, judgment, attention to detail, and the ability to foster a collaborative remote working environment;
  • Proficiency using R or another programming language to manipulate data and draw insights from large, complex datasets;
  • Strong writing skills, including experience with peer-reviewed manuscripts and progress reports;
  • Familiarity with git/GitHub or another version control system;
  • Compassion, empathy, and a sense of humor.

Preferred qualifications include the following:

  • Experience creating impactful data visualizations for social media and reports;
  • Experience developing open-source datasets
  • Experience with GIS platforms, like QGIS;
  • Experience planning and executing qualitative data projects;
  • Experience working with remote research teams;
  • Lived experience with and/or knowledge of the criminal legal system;

This position will begin in February 2023 and is funded through January 2025, with a possible extension depending on need and funding. The work will be remote; applicants need not reside in California. The salary will be $100,000 per annum with limited benefits including health insurance.

To apply, please submit an application here, with a cover letter explaining your interest in and qualifications for the position, resume, and list of references. Candidates may also submit a statement on contributions to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) – an EDI Statement describes a faculty candidate’s past, present, and future (planned) contributions to equity, diversity, and inclusion. To learn more about how UCLA thinks about contributions to equity, diversity, and inclusion, please review our EDI Statement FAQ document. Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis beginning immediately.

Formerly incarcerated candidates or those with loved ones in prison are very strongly encouraged to apply. UCLA is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected Veteran status.


The UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Data Project is looking for volunteers to help us track and analyze COVID-19 infections and deaths in prisons and jails.

We welcome volunteers of all ages. We ask our volunteers for a minimum commitment of 4 hours a week for at least 6 consecutive weeks, but we are also open to alternatives. If you are interested in joining us, please email Project Coordinator Anna Norkett at norkett2024@lawnet.ucla.edu with your availability and a short description of why you want to volunteer with the Project.

The UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Data Project values equity and inclusion and encourages a diversity of candidates from various backgrounds to contact us. We especially welcome the participation of people who have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system.