About Convict Criminology

 
The "New School of Convict Criminology" is a relatively new and controversial perspective in the field of corrections and the academic field of criminology. It challenges the way crime and correctional problems are traditionally represented and discussed by researchers, policymakers, and politicians.

Our use of "New" is mirrored on Taylor, Walton, and Young's (1973) seminal work The New Criminology. This monograph generated considerable controversy and intellectual debate in our discipline. These authors were critical of positivist, functionalist, and labeling approaches that failed to consider how the criminal law, policing, and corrections were socio-political constructions of class domination and the logical priorities of capitalism. Our use of the word "school" is similar to the Frankfurt School and the New School of Social Research, which suggests a collective effort grounded in a creative and critical research tradition. (Richards and Ross, 2001: 186)

In part, Convict Criminology emerged as a result of the frustration ex-convict academics experienced with the extant understanding of crime and its control. Convict criminologists are especially concerned with:
    (1) how the problem of crime is defined,
    (2) solutions proposed,
    (3) the devastating impacts of those decisions on the men and women "labeled" criminals (Becker, 1963; Lemert, 1967), who are locked in correctional facilities, separated from loved ones, and prevented from fully reintegrating into the community,
    (4) record high rates of incarceration,
    (5) overcrowding of penal institutions,
    (6) a lack of meaningful programming inside and outside of prison
    (7) and the structural impediments to successful re-entry that results in a revolving door criminal justice system (Richards & Jones, 1997; 2004; Richards, 2003; Maruna & Immarigeon, 2004).

As defined (see Richards & Ross, 2001:180; Ross & Richards, 2003:6), Convict Criminology represents the work of convicts or ex-convicts, in possession of a Ph.D. or on their way to completing one, or enlightened academics and practitioners, who contribute to a new conversation about crime and corrections.

This is a "New Criminology" led by former prisoners who are now academic faculty. The Convict Criminology group tends to do research that illustrates the experiences of prisoners and ex-cons, attempts to combat the misrepresentations of scholars, the media and government, and to propose new and less costly strategies that are more humane and effective (Richards & Ross, 2003a, 2003b).

The convict scholars are able to do what many previous researchers could not; merge their past with their present and provide a provocative approach to the academic study of their field. The convict criminology perspective is also based on perceptions, experiences, and analytical ideas that originate with defendants and prisoners, and are then developed by critical scholars (Richards & Ross, 2003a, 2003b).

 
Organization of Convict Criminology Group
The Convict Criminology group is informally organized as a researching, writing, and activist collective. There is no formal membership or assignment of leadership roles. Individuals voluntarily decide to associate with the group.

Different members of the group lead or take responsibility for assorted functions; for example, lead author on a conference paper, or academic article, research proposal, program assessment, mentoring students or junior faculty, or media contact. Ideally, the lead person invites one or more Convict Criminology colleagues to share the work and through this process attempts to generalize the discussion, and socialize the membership into the norms of academia.

The group continues to grow as more prisoners exit prison to attend universities, hear about the group, and decide to contribute to activities. Typically, new members resolve to "come out" when they are introduced to the academic community at the American Society of Criminology (ASC) or the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) conferences.

The group does not exclude or discriminate by criminal offense. The general premise is that when a person completes their sentence they have paid for their crime, any crime. The group is not limited to students and faculty who research or teach in Criminology, Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Social Work. Convict Criminology may also include ex-cons or "non-cons" who work outside of academia, including government agencies, private foundations, or community groups.

Finally, there is a growing group of men and women behind bars who hold advanced degrees and publish academic work about crime and corrections (i.e., Rideau & Wikberg, 1992; Hassine, 2004; Paluch, 2004; K.C. Carceral, 2004, 2006). At the present time, the Convict Criminology group includes men and women ex-con academics from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Finland. The U.S., with the largest prison population in the world, continues to contribute the most members.

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