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Justice and Blameworthiness Lab (JABLab)

Jablab logo.

The Justice and Blameworthiness Lab (JABLab) examines patterns in “hot car death” cases involving parents: where mothers and/or fathers unknowingly left their child in a hot car, resulting in the child’s death.

In collaboration with Kids and Car Safety (KACS), a national nonprofit, and Dr. Mary Nell Trautner (SUNY at Buffalo), JABlab was launched at TCNJ by Dr. Elizabeth Borland and her students in June 2022. Since then, JABlab researchers have supplemented KACS data and coded over 400 US hot car deaths.

The importance of researching hot car deaths

Left to right: Dr. Elizabeth Borland, Jordan Ekstrom, Chloe Burke, and Cameron Keating (2023).

We examine the aftermath of hot car deaths to understand patterns in the prosecution of parents, with a specific focus on the intersection of gender, class, and racial inequality. A hot car death can happen to any parent, but our analyses show that what follows the tragedy varies depending on the identity of the parent held responsible and the lawyers involved. Understanding differential outcomes in hot car deaths is important for scholarship on gender, law, and family. It can also can shed light on unexpected biases within the criminal justice system, which can inform the development and reform of policies related to child safety and vehicular heatstroke prevention.

» See our work in the news (The Signal)

Collaborating with Kids and Car Safety

Collecting information about hot car death cases is a priority for Kids and Car Safety (KACS), the leading national non-profit organization addressing hot car deaths and other types of vehicle-related injuries and fatalities. Their mission is to “[save] the lives of children and pets in and around motor vehicles.” Systematic data collection empowers them to create real change through public education, policy, and product redesign, and to provide support to families who experience hot car deaths.

» Learn more about Kids and Car Safety


Left to right: Dr. Elizabeth Borland, Chloe Burke, Cameron Keating, Jordan Ekstrom, and Elizabeth Wood (2023).

ESS (Winter 2024)

The Spring 2024 team presented at the Eastern Sociological Society’s 2024 conference in Washington D.C. Dr. Borland, Jordan Ekstrom, Cameron Keating, and Chloe Burke presented a paper on lawyer characteristics (Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys) and their impacts on the cases in the criminal justice system.

COSA (Spring 2023)

The Spring 2023 team explained why studying intersectionality is necessary for this study and disclosed their findings in a presentation at TCNJ’s Celebration of Student Achievement (COSA).

ESS (Winter 2023)

The Spring 2023 team presented at the Eastern Sociological Society’s 2023 conference in Baltimore, MD. Dr. Borland, Jordan Ekstrom, Cameron Keating, and Elizabeth Wood presented a paper on Gender and Racial disparities among those cases prosecuted. Jordan Ekstrom and Cameron Keating also presented a poster on preliminary findings relating to how the prosecutor’s gender plays a role in prosecution of parents in hot car death cases.

MUSE Conference (Fall 2022)

Jordan Ekstrom and Cameron Keating shared their data regarding gender disparities in the criminalization of hot car deaths in a poster presentation for the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience.



Dr. Elizabeth Borland

Dr. Borland is a sociology professor at TCNJ who leads this multi-year research lab. Elizabeth Borland’s research spans gender studies, social movements, and legal mobilization.  Dr. Borland is also committed to community engaged research. You can read more about her approach to introducing students to community engaged work in this  ASA Footnotes article.

Dr. Mary Nell Trautner

Dr. Trautner is a sociology professor at the University at Buffalo. Mary Nell Trautner has focused on social inequality and social justice – how do law, culture, and institutionalized practices shape how inequality is experienced or perpetuated?


Jordan Ekstrom ’24 (LinkedIn)

Major: Sociology Minor: Psychology and International Studies

Duration: June 2022 – Present

I am a senior sociology major who has a passion for doing research. I was part of the founding JABLab team and being part of this project has been a huge delight. As a member of JAB Lab, I was empowered to create methodology, improve my quantitative analysis skills, and work on my general research capabilities. Working with a national non-profit organization has allowed me to gain new insights into making real change in the world through the power of data.

Cameron Keating ’24 (LinkedIn)

Major: Sociology Minor: Public Health and Public Policy

Duration: June 2022-Present

Along with Dr. Borland and Jordan Ekstrom, I pioneered work in the JABLab during MUSE 2022. Since the initial days of planning out our codebook and content analysis protocols, I am planning to present at my second Eastern Sociological Meeting with the JABLab, as we work on finishing our first manuscript for journal submission. My favorite part of this research project has been working with Kids and Car Safety knowing that our collaborative work has great implications for the criminal justice system. Approaching my final semester at TCNJ, I am excited to train more recruits and ensure the JABLab continues its tradition of applied sociology that addresses inequality in the legal system.

Chloe Burke ’26 (LinkedIn)

Major: Sociology Minor: Criminology and Psychology

Duration: January 2023 – Present

I have been a member of the JABLab since January ‘23. I started off coding court cases with my fellow team members, looking for discrepancies within the outcomes of these cases between mothers and fathers, white vs. non-white parents, and intersectional identities of these factors. I then spent the summer of ‘23 coding alongside Dr. Borland, looking at 2-parent cases and seeing the difference in treatment, charges, sentence lengths, etc. in cases where both the mother and father were involved. I continued my position on the team during the Fall of ‘23 coding information about lawyers. I hope to continue my research as a member of the JABLab throughout my college career.

Evette Rivera ’26 (LinkedIn)

Major: Anthropology & Sociology Duration: January 2024 – Present

I joined the JABLab team in late January of 2024 and have had the pleasure of working alongside Dr.Borland and many other team members to work on such an impactful project. My role within the team has been to code individual cases from 2020-2021. For each case, we searched for variations between cases ranging from the gender of the parent(s), sentencing, and many other contributing factors. I have also paired up with teammate Jordan Ekstrom to incorporate the use of R programming with these cases to help identify underlying differences. This experience has allowed me to grow and develop my quantitative analysis skills as well as other general research skills. I hope to continue working for this team in their fight to shed light on the injustices individuals face, one case at a time.


Elizabeth Wood ’23 (LinkedIn)

Major: Political Science Minor: Sociology

Duration: September 2022 – May 2023

I graduated in 2023 and was part of the lab during my senior year. This experience taught me a lot about working both with my peers and outside organizations, as well as the process of creating academic papers. My favorite memory was going to Baltimore for a sociology conference to present our work!

Marielle Pappaterra ’24 (LinkedIn)

Major: Sociology Minor: Fine Arts

Duration: September 2023 – Present

I became a member of the JABLab in the Fall of 2023. I started off researching the backgrounds of lawyers and prosecutors; then I coded the information. I also helped gather literature on the importance of law schools, how Martindale Hubble was used in previous studies, and what SES indicator previous studies have used. I have enjoyed participating in this research lab as I have been able to improve my analytical research skills.

Rachel Shuster ’26

Major: Sociology Minor: Fine Arts

Duration: September 2023 – Present

 I joined JABLab in the Fall of 2023 as a coder helping to record census data and data on involved lawyers and prosecutors. JABLab is my first experience with research and I am really enjoying having the opportunity to connect what I have learned about Sociology with real-world situations.

Team Photos