By Claire M. Renzetti, series editor for Gender and Justice Series
As criminologists are gathering in New Orleans, LA, this week for the 55th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justices Sciences (ACJS), they will be addressing the proverbial “So what” question that is not infrequently raised by the media, the general public, and certainly, by politicians, when presented with findings from empirical research. The choice of this theme, with the subtheme “What it all means,” by ACJS President Nicole Leeper Piquero (University of Texas at Dallas) is especially timely given, on one hand, opinion polls showing tremendous mistrust of academics by a swath of the public and conservative politicians, and on the other hand, the groundswell of voices documenting hate crimes and sexual abuse in this country. In the current social and political climate, with the country’s President labeling any story that contradicts his personal or political agenda “fake news,” it behooves us to answer the so what question more clearly and vehemently than ever before.
Indeed, criminological research has much to offer in response to the so what question. Consider, for example, the books in the UC Press Gender and Justice Series, which focus explicitly on how the experiences of offending, victimization, and justice are profoundly affected by the intersection of gender inequality with other social inequalities such as race, ethnicity, and social class. Jerry Flores (University of Toronto), in his monograph, Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration, examines the lives of incarcerated young women, particularly Latinas, in southern California. Through painstaking ethnographic research at a detention center, Flores shows the circumstances that led to girls’ arrests, what they experience during incarceration, and what typically happens when they are released. So what? Flores’ study demonstrates how the juvenile justice system, and in particular, the school-to-prison pipeline, are simultaneously gendered, raced and classed, such that both schools and detention centers, rather than cultivating avenues of success and safety for young women, largely ensure instead that they will plunge deeper into the labyrinthian criminal legal system.
Similarly, Barbara Owen (California State University, Fresno), James Wells (Eastern Kentucky University), and Joycelyn Pollock (Texas State University), in their book, In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment, take readers inside an adult women’s correctional facility to show how gendered power relationships, including those with correctional staff, result in violent victimization for incarcerated women for whom such victimization, throughout their lives, has constructed one of the pathways to offending that originally resulted in their arrest. So what? Owen, Wells, and Pollock remind us of the feminist slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights,” and their rigorous research raises policy recommendations for breaking the relationship between victimization and offending for women, which would reduce crime and eventually bring U.S. prisons into compliance with international human rights standards.
These are just two examples of how series authors, through their timely research and authentic writing, are answering the so what question. Their work offers blueprints for social action that fosters equity and refocuses national attention on the foundational elements of justice in our criminal legal system.
See the rest of the Gender and Justice Series titles:
Claire M. Renzetti, Ph.D., is the Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair for Studies of Violence Against Women, and Professor and Chair of Sociology, at the University of Kentucky.