Convict Criminology

VI. The Activities of the Convict Criminology Group

Members of the convict criminology group mentor students; organize sessions at regional and national conferences; collaborate on research projects; coauthor articles and monographs; help organize and support numerous groups and activities related to criminal justice reform; provide consulting services; and organize workshops for criminal defense attorneys, correctional organizations, and universities. For example, some members of the group have worked on major prison research projects in California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, and Ohio. In New Zealand, Newbold has served a total of 13 government policy agencies either as a consultant or as a bona fide member. Collectively, the group has published books, journal articles, and book chapters using auto-ethnographic or insider perspectives. Private foundations, including the Soros Foundation Open Society Institute, have supported CC activities, including conference presentations and research. Individuals may serve as consultants or leadership for community groups working on prison issues or legislation.

The local and national media are interested in how convicts become professors and in their insider expertise, and they frequently interview group members. This is a powerful way of dispelling popular myths about criminals, making it important that convict criminologists become media savvy and learn how to answer questions in a clear, direct, informed, and concise way. The media love “good talent,” and journalists will continually return to contacts who provide them with useful copy. The media may also ask ex-convict professors to provide contacts for other stories. Ex-convict professors may also engage friendly journalists to assist with media promotion of CC work in universities, academic programs, and/or correctional programs. Media stories about the group have appeared in print in many countries.

All CC members mentor students with felony records at their respective universities. In doing so, they assist these students with the difficult job of adjusting to how having a criminal record may effect their expectations for deciding on academic programs and careers. Assistance may include parole board appearances, academic advising, emotional support, and/or preparation for employment or admission to graduate programs. Many group members also act as role models or advisors for convicts or ex-convicts who might be thinking about attending university. This mentoring of convicts, both young and old, recidivist or naive, is one of the convict criminologist’s most important roles. In a country like the United States, where more than 500,000 men and women get out of prison every year, there is a large potential population of former prisoners who will attend universities.

As a consequence of this work, CC is now being taught in universities as well as in prisons, providing a perspective that may be used as part or all of a course, or simply integrated throughout. In Wisconsin, a program called “Inviting Convicts to College” has been in place since 2004, training pairs of undergraduate intern instructors to go inside prisons to teach a free college programs entitled “Convict Criminology.” The course uses the book Convict Criminology (Ross & Richards, 2003), donated by the publisher, to inspire the prisoners. The course is taught 2 hours a week, for 14 weeks, and is supervised by ex-convict professors. Prisoners exiting prison use the course as a bridge to entering college, with the final weeks of the course including instruction on completing and submitting admission and financial aid forms. The prisoners soon learn that admission to college and financial aid grants and loans can be a viable parole plan. The program has already helped a number of prisoners to enter universities, where they receive advice and mentoring from members of the CC group.