Owens specializes in local and state politics, the politics of policing and mass incarceration, and the political engagement of nonprofit organizations. He has done research on urban and metropolitan governance and public policy, religion and politics, and African-American politics. Owens co-directs the Politics of Policing Lab at Emory, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. He serves on boards of the Georgia Justice Project; Journal of Urban Affairs; Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and the City; Perspectives on Politics; and Politics, Groups, and Identities. His current book project is Prisoners of Democracy, a study of the politics of restoring political, social, and civil rights to formerly imprisoned people in the U.S.