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Hot Spots for Shaken-Baby Syndrome Cases Identified

Medill Justice Project database made available to public for first time

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December 10, 2013 | by Erin White
  • New Medill Justice Project study shows hot spots throughout the U.S. with higher rates of Shaken-Baby Syndrome
  • Counties in Nebraska, Georgia, Utah and Ohio lead the list 
  • Top-ranked states include Oklahoma and Wisconsin
  • Concentration of cases also found in Queens, N.Y.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Counties in the United States with higher rates of shaken-baby syndrome cases include Sarpy and Douglas, Neb., Richmond, Ga., Weber, Utah, and Summit, Ohio, The Medill Justice Project discovered in a year-and-a-half long database research project, the findings from which are published today. On a state level, Nebraska ranks first with the most shaken-baby syndrome cases per 100,000 people, followed in order by Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ohio.

This is the first known study that has identified where people are being accused of shaken-baby syndrome crimes throughout the country. Shaken-baby syndrome crimes involve caregivers who are accused of inflicting severe head trauma on children, typically under the age of 2, causing a triad of symptoms—brain bleeding, brain swelling and bleeding within the eye. Criminal justice experts, statisticians, health authorities and others interviewed offered several possible explanations for the higher rate of cases in certain regions. The factors include aggressive prosecutors in places like Queens, N.Y., influential physicians, medical examiners and hospitals, heavily enforced state laws and a large amount of media attention on shaken-baby syndrome issues.  

Working with undergraduate and graduate journalism students at Northwestern University, The Medill Justice Project identified and confirmed more than 3,600 cases of shaken-baby syndrome, using more than 30 sources, including press accounts, public record searches, through such databases as LexisNexis, and court documents.

For the first time, The Medill Justice Project is releasing its database to the public. With the help of a team of engineering graduate students at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, the database includes the gender of those accused, and the county and state where each case occurred. The Medill Justice Project plans to update the database as more categories of data are verified.

About The Medill Justice Project

The Medill Justice Project, founded at Northwestern University in 1999, is an investigative journalism enterprise that examines potentially wrongful convictions, probes national systemic criminal-justice issues and conducts groundbreaking research. As journalists, we advocate only for the truth.

About Medill

Medill was founded in 1921 and offers programs in journalism and integrated marketing communications. It teaches new techniques essential in today's digital world. Medill is leading the way in training a new generation of multimedia journalists and integrated marketing communications professionals. The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University is named after Joseph Medill, a newspaper man and former mayor of Chicago.

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The Medill Justice Project allows media outlets to republish individual investigative stories so long as the material is not edited and The Medill Justice Project is credited in the byline.
Topics: Research