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Convict Criminology: A Book by Ex-Con Professors

and Critical Criminologists

By Jeffrey Ian Ross, University of Baltimore and Stephen C. Richards, Northern Kentucky University

Convict Criminology is an edited book that features 9 chapters by ex-convict professors, including 3 former federal prisoners that are now criminology professors and FedCURE members. The book has been widely adopted for university courses across the country. Textbooks for Criminology, Criminal Justice, Corrections and Sociology courses tend to focus on qualitative explanations for criminal behavior, and qualitative justifications for the goals of incarceration. As we educate the next generation of criminologists, it is imperative that we provide students with a broader understanding of criminal behavior and correctional treatment through qualitative assessments. Convict Criminology provides educators with a unique opportunity to present students with a personal glimpse into the lives of prisoners, ex-convicts, and individuals working within the correctional system.

Convict Criminology is compilation of quantitative and qualitative articles written, for the most part, by ex-convict criminologists. Despite the writers’ disparate criminal, correctional, and release experiences, the overall theme of the book is consistent: current legal and correctional policies in the United States are doing more social harm than good. The book also helps to correct common misconceptions of prisoners, ex-convicts, and corrections, held by the public and perpetuated by the media. Finally, the book emphasizes the “failure of criminologists to recognize the dehumanizing conditions of the criminal justice system” (Terry, 2003: 112-113) in the United States , and the relationship between this failure and the failure to reduce crime.

Unlike traditional textbooks, Convict Criminology offers a realistic approach to studying prison conditions; illustrates that the outcome of the “war on drugs” has been the incarceration of thousands of non-violent offenders; and promotes understanding of the true meaning of doing time, and the subsequent impact of ex-con stigmatization on post-release success.

Convict Criminology begins with Foreword by Todd Clear and Preface by John Irwin . Ross and Richards then introduce “The New School of Convict Criminology. The chapters are grouped into three sections. The first section of the book is entitled “What’s Wrong with Corrections The second section of Convict Criminology, entitled the “Convict Experience and Identity,” conveys personal experiences of ex-convicts before, during, and after their correctional experience. The final section in Convict Criminology is entitled “Special Populations.” Richards and Ross conclude the book with “An Invitation to the Criminology/Criminal Justice Community.”

While I found Convict Criminology to be a thought-provoking educational tool, perhaps most revealing are the consistent student reviews of the book. According to students: Convict Criminology was viewed as a remarkable book, with outstanding contributors providing a unique perspective on the criminal justice system; an important educational supplement to criminal justice and sociology courses; provided an in-depth look at the individual experiences of inmates, which is difficult to attain and more interesting than traditional textbooks; helped to humanize criminals; and altered current views regarding criminals and the criminal justice system.

In general students expressed their gratitude to contributors of Convict Criminology for sharing their stories, and allowing them a glimpse into reality. Specifically, the book appears to have had an ideological impact on students. For example, one student wrote: after reading this book, “I think we must reevaluate our priorities and designate prison space to those offenders who should be confined—namely violent offenders.” Another student wrote: “After reading this book I came to realize that because we socially stigmatize ex-convicts, we are basically sentencing all criminal offenders to life in prison. We need to address the prejudice that results in limiting the ex-convicts ability to contribute to society in a positive fashion, and which, perhaps, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Another student wrote: “As a police officer, I expected this book to be filled with a lot of “liberal crap.” Since I work within the criminal justice system my knowledge of what transpires within correctional institutions has been shaped by the system. What I discovered by reading Convict Criminology is every story (even in the criminal justice system) has at least two sides, and maybe some of the stories that I have heard from arrestees are not as far from the truth as I previously thought.” Finally, several students wrote: “This is the best book I have read during college (and/or during my life). The life experiences shared in the book dramatically altered my perspectives on punishment (people should be given a second chance); ex-convicts (they are not so very different from the rest of us); and helped me understand the importance of education within the correctional system, and the importance of socially reducing the stigma associated with the label of ex-con.”

Convict Criminology is an appropriate text for a number of criminology, criminal justice, and sociology courses, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, such as Introduction to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Corrections, and Sociology of Deviant Behavior. The readings are not overly difficult, the personal stories shared by the contributors immediately engage the reader, and the contributors provide insightful suggestions for future research and social change. Using this text in related courses has provoked stimulating class discussions, and challenged perspectives on law, deviance, criminals, and corrections. This book is highly recommended. Order your copy now at


Reviewer: Dr. Victoria Simpson Beck, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati , Ohio .