What research questions currently preoccupy you?
I'm centrally interested in questions related to the politics of the American criminal justice system. America's justice system, most notably our prison system, is terribly broken in my view. We incarcerate far too many people, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, with no clear return in public safety benefits. How do we create a more rational, just, and humane penal system when political forces for the better part of four decades have overwhelmingly focused on punishment?
What personal factors contributed to your study of the American criminal justice system?
For me it was simply a gradual awareness of how large our criminal justice had become and how the system now affects so many different aspects of American life. Criminal justice policy speaks directly to issues of racial and economic equality, citizens' trust in government, and peoples' capacity to engage in civic and political life.
What has been most challenging in your research?
Getting inside American prisons and jails, for research purposes, has always been a challenge. For a variety of reasons, prison officials in recent decades have tended to impose more (not fewer) restrictions on researchers interested in the policies and activities behind prison walls.
How has your position in SJSU contributed to your research?
In my 3+ years at SJSU I've worked hard to foster relationships with members of the community and some of our elected officials in state and local government. None have been more instrumental to my research pursuits than State Senator Jim Beall who has worked tirelessly on mental health issues and prison policy more generally. Working with Senator Beall, I've been fortunate to visit several California prisons including death rows for both men and women.
A hidden (research) talent:
I make good use of Google's 'advance search' function. It's a miracle worker.
One book that changed your life (or research) and why:
When I was 19 or 20 I read James Carville and Mary Matalin's All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President. I don't recall the book offering any grand thesis, but I was so enthralled by their experience running Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush's presidential campaigns that I decided I wanted to have some kind of career related to politics.
A website/journal/newspaper (in your field?) you follow without fail:
One thing about being a political scientist is that there is always something new to talk about in class. Things in politics are always changing. Of course this means spending a lot of time analyzing the news and trying to make sense of things. I'm a longtime reader of the New York Times for national political coverage–the paper continues to offer unparalleled depth in political coverage. My favorite political blogger, without doubt, is Jonathan Chait who writes for New York magazine.
Advice you’d give to newer faculty or students:
Don't let others define what questions are or are not important in your academic discipline. Try to persuade the skeptics with great, innovative work.
Published: Smart on Crime: The Struggle to Build a Better American Penal System