Small but consequential victories: Convict Criminology becomes an official division of the American Society of Criminology

Nobody goes into academia to become rich and famous. Working in this particular career we hopefully make small, but important contributions. A paper that you worked really hard on finally gets published, your first book gets released, a student that you worked closely with graduates and gets hired by a good employer, etc.

These activities add up, shape a career in small ways, and make you feel like your work has some value. The official acceptance by the Executive Board of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), for the creation of the Division of Convict Criminology, at their Spring Board Meeting, April 25, 2020 is one of those small but consequential victories.

During the early 1990s I met Stephen C. Richards, a formerly incarcerated professor who earned a Ph.D. We got to know each other and discussed at length our respective views surrounding the field of corrections (i.e., jails, prisons, those who are incarcerated inside and work there, and the policies, practices and laws in this field). As a former correctional worker, and Stephen a former convict, we both had a lot of difficulty with the ways that corrections was studied, interpreted, and portrayed, not just by our cultural industries, but also by our academic brethren.

We knew that we were not alone, but to move forward we sketched out the rationale and contours of what we later called Convict Criminology (CC). To make CC a coherent body of thought, practice, and praxis we needed to go beyond networking with like-minded people and presenting papers at academic conferences, and started having our work published in respectable scholarly venues. We embarked on this auspicious task slowly, methodically, while encountering and responding to a lot of bomb throwers and contrarians both inside and outside our group.

Three years ago I realized that to better sustain the network, we needed to create a more formal organizational structure. So with the encouragement of Grant Tietjen, Ph.D. and Denise Woodall, Ph.D., I quickly drafted a constitution for this new organization. At the last minute we got a room booked at the Atlanta ASC conference where the Convict Criminology network held its very first business meeting. After some discussion, the constitution was revised, both Grant and Denise were elected as co-chairs, and we had people assume different tasks. At both the Philadelphia and San Francisco ASC meetings, in addition to our panels and social, we held business meetings where we tinkered with the constitution, voted for new executives, and discussed our future direction, including the advantages and disadvantages of becoming an official division of ASC.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, efforts to become an official division took on more prominence. An electronic vote of the CC network indicated overwhelming support for moving forward with the CC division process. At the 2019 ASC conference we started a formal petition to create a division, and quickly discovered numerous people who were willing to sign. During a spirited Convict Criminology business meeting the decision to become an official division was raised again, including issues regarding our formal name and mission, and shortly thereafter reaffirmed our decision through a face-to-face vote, and again a post meeting electronic vote. Daniel Kavish, Ph.D. took the lead in dealing with all the formalities and technicalities, including a DCC constitution that conformed to current ASC guidelines and a website. He had frequent correspondence with Chris Eskridge, Executive Director, and Susan Case, Deputy Director.

At the beginning of April 2020, the formal application was submitted to ASC, and on April 25, 2020 the ASC Executive Board approved the establishment of the Division of Convict Criminology.

The creation of the Division of Convict Criminology, as an official division of the ASC, is a validation of the hard work of numerous people who have been formally incarcerated, justice involved or impacted, and allies of the organization, who believe that the convict and ex-convict voice has been ignored in traditional criminological/criminal justice scholarship, and are working to change this, through scholarship, mentorship, and service. The new division is a milestone for me and for all of those who have been involved in our journey. It is an event that we should all be happy about and celebrate.

This small but consequential victory should better assist those amongst us who are trying to lend a helping hand to our constituency who are trying to better themselves through post graduate education, get a more accurate picture of what goes on behind bars and upon release, and who want to achieve more social justice in the field of corrections.