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AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES ON CRIME

This website provides information about African American scholars’ perspectives on crime causation, criminal justice administration, and crime prevention. Included only are the works of scholars of African descent holding an earned Ph.D. or doctorate degree in criminology and/or criminal justice from an accredited university located within the USA.

Hopefully, these experts’ insights into crime and its control will encourage a robust and productive discussion about future crime control strategies among our colleagues in the fields of criminology and criminal justice, the students we teach, the public and private sector policymakers we hope to influence, and the residents of this great nation whom we seek to serve.

Focus on African American Scholars:

The perspectives of African American scholars are the focus of this website because they usually are excluded when discussions occur about crime and its control in the USA. The extent of this exclusion first was documented in an article authored by Dr. Vernetta D. Young (professor at Howard University in Washington, DC) and Dr. Anne T. Sulton, Esq. (criminology professor and civil rights attorney). Entitled “Excluded: The Current Status of African-American Scholars in the Field of Criminology and Criminal Justice,” this scholarly peer-reviewed article initially was published by the prestigious Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency in 1991.

In 2004, the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency published a scholarly peer-reviewed article authored by Dr. Helen Taylor Greene (professor at Texas Southern University), Dr. Shaun Gabbidon (professor at Penn State Harrisburg), and Dr. Kideste Wilder-Bonner (professor at Old Dominion University). Their article, entitled “Still Excluded? An Update on the Status of African American Scholars in the Discipline of Criminology and Criminal Justice,” revisits the exclusion issues raised by Young and Sulton in 1991. They conclude:

"In closing, although our overall view is that moderate improvements occurred during the past decade, we must conclude as our colleagues did in their decade-old article that African-American scholars have made and continue to make valuable contributions to the field of criminology [and criminal justice]. Our contributions must be acknowledged. Our voices must be heard (Young and Sulton 1991:115). We hope that 10 years from now, we can write a different closing summation."

Since publication of the Greene et al. article in 2004, which describes their empirical study of the issues raised by Young and Sulton in 1991, more African American scholars’ expert opinions have been included. However, “a different closing summation” cannot yet be written.

Much work remains to be done to ensure their voices are timely heard on the most pressing critical issues of the day. For example, from those who are criminologists, we need to hear and include their professional opinions about the likely causes of the recent spike in homicides in some urban areas. From those who are criminal justice scholars, we need to hear and include their professional opinions about how to improve police use of force policies and police use of force training.

This website is dedicated to sharing their voices. It is a small part of some of the work that must be done so that “a different closing summation” can be written by the next generation of African American scholars in the fields of criminology and/or criminal justice.

Only Ph.D. Scholars Included:

Only the works of scholars of African descent holding a Ph.D. or doctorate degree are included because this is the highest academic degree conferred in the fields of criminology and/or criminal justice by an accredited university located within the USA. Although their descriptions differ, all of these universities have rigorous programs of study ensuring that each doctoral student upon whom the Ph.D. degree is conferred has demonstrated that he or she is an expert in the fields of criminology and/or criminal justice.

For example, some observers recently ranked the University of Maryland-College Park’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice as offering the best doctoral level program in both fields. This university currently describes its program as follows: “For completion of the PhD degree, competence in theory, in research methodology and in quantitative techniques is expected, as well as competence in the general field of criminology and criminal justice and in some specialization area within criminology or criminal justice selected by the student with Department approval.”

Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice states that its “Ph.D. program is designed to provide students with a command of criminological theory, research methods, and criminal justice policy; as well as in-depth knowledge in areas of specialization within criminology and/or criminal justice. The doctoral degree is awarded based on evidence that the candidate has achieved a high level of proficiency in independent scholarship and research. This is assessed through course grades, the qualifying exam, the production of a publishable quality empirical paper, and successful defense of the dissertation.”

Michigan State University’s Doctorate Degree in Criminal Justice “is designed to produce graduates who can apply a variety of research methodologies to the study of crime causation, social reaction, and the legal system. Throughout the program there is an emphasis on the relationship between theory and practice, as well as the interconnected activities of the many agencies and professions involved in the systems of justice and private security. Through their research, teaching, and practice, graduates can contribute to the development of improved systems for the prevention and control of crime and delinquency.”

Similar competency and proficiency requirements are essential features of Sam Houston State University’s curriculum. It explains: “The Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice is designed to produce students of crime and justice who possess a deep and extensive awareness of the body of knowledge in the field of criminal justice and the intellectual and methodological skills necessary for the continuing process of discovery and understanding of crime and justice related issues. The graduate should be capable of integrative and analytical thinking, competent at transmitting knowledge, able to engage in various accepted modes of research, and should possess skills in problem-solving. The curriculum includes courses that provide theoretical and applied knowledge of the phenomena of crime and criminal justice. In addition to the demonstration of excellence in the classroom, students are expected to engage in research in accordance with personal specialized interests beyond specified courses. Through the combined efforts of faculty and students, the PhD program in Criminal Justice produces students capable of making contributions to criminal justice through the academic and applied components of the discipline. The curriculum is designed to ensure that graduates are well equipped to participate in criminological positions emphasizing research, theory, law and administration.”

Criminology and Criminal Justice Differ:

Presented in this website are the writings of scholars working in the fields of criminology and/or criminal justice. Readers should be aware not all scholars agree that criminology and criminal justice is a single academic discipline. Many agree criminology and criminal justice are two different fields of study – this is evident when examining the descriptions offered by each of the two major professional organizations dedicated to advancing these fields of study.

The American Society of Criminology states that it brings together “persons actively engaged in research, teaching, and/or practice in the field of criminology,” “fosters criminological scholarship,” and serves “as a forum for the dissemination of criminological knowledge”.

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences reports that it seeks to “foster professional and scholarly activities in the field of criminal justice,” and “promotes criminal justice education, research, and policy analysis within the discipline of criminal justice for both educators and practitioners.”

Furthermore, although there is some consensus that criminology and criminal justice are different fields, a vigorous debate continues about whether criminology remains a branch of sociology or now stands as a separate academic discipline.

The American Sociological Association defines sociology as the “study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior.” Sociology covers all aspects of human social behavior.

The field of criminology seeks to answer questions concerning human social behavior, specifically those relating to criminal conduct. Criminologists’ inquiries often focus on issues involving the complexities of human social behavior, theoretical paradigms explaining the etiology of criminal behavior, and identification of macro-level strategies likely to ameliorate the identified social causes of criminal behavior. Consequently, one reasonably could conclude that criminology remains a branch of sociology.

The field of criminal justice considers questions relating to measuring the extent and/or amount of legislatively identified criminal activities, and addresses issues pertaining to the operations of government agencies assigned to respond to reported criminal incidents and handle convicted offenders. Criminal justice scholars frequently focus their work on enhancing our understanding of the complexities and nuances associated with the multi-faceted interrelationships between and among crime control agencies, and improving these agencies’ operations.

Links:

To access articles authored by scholars of African descent, please click on the tabs or links contained in this website. As additional materials become available, they will be added to this website.