“Convict criminology,” Jeffrey Ian Ross explains in this Social Science Bites podcast, is “a network, or platform, that’s united in the perception that the convict voice has been either neglected or marginalized in scholarship or policy debates in the field of criminology in general, and corrections in particular.”
Ross, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore, is one of the originators of the concept, he tells interviewer David Edmonds. Seeing “a big gap” in the work of criminology and corrections, in the early 1990s he and Stephen Richards focused on tapping “the lived experience of convicts” for this academic work. Both men had experience with the corrections system – Ross had worked for several years in a correctional institution and later was a social science analysts with U.S. Department of Justice, while Richards had spent three years in federal prison for marijuana distribution before becoming a professor.
About half of the people in the field of convict criminology are either ex-convicts, have impacted by the prison system or are prison activists who have or are in the process of getting a PhD in criminology, Ross says. “Many people who have a criminal conviction try to keep it quiet,” Ross says about jobseekers in academe (or anywhere), and he’s proud of the strides convict criminologists have made. “We’ve managed to forge a beachhead and produce very impressive scholarship,” he says, all the while offering authenticity and degree of inside knowledge.
Convict criminology, he details, rests on three pillars: scholarly research, mentorship, and some sort of service or activism. All three pillars arise from a “desire and goal to make a meaningful impact on prison conditions.”
So mentorship, for example, might involve having ex-cons be mentors in re-entry programs, while scholarly research benefits from both having an inside view that pays extra dividends when interviewing incarcerated or formerly incarcerated subjects and in understanding the nuances of their accounts.
He has received a number of awards over the years, including the University of Baltimore’s Distinguished Chair in Research Award in 2003; the Hans W. Mattick Award, “for an individual who has made a distinguished contribution to the field of criminology and criminal justice practice,” from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2018 Last year he received both the John Howard Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences’ Division of Corrections and the John Keith Irwin Distinguished Professor Award from the American Society of Criminology’s Division of Convict Criminology.
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