U of A launches criminology think tank
New research centre will bring together perspectives of people who work in the criminal justice system and those who experience it.
By GEOFF McMASTER
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A new criminology think tank aimed at bringing together scholars and community partners to examine some of the most pressing issues facing the criminal justice system was launched last week at the University of Alberta.
“We want to create a safe space to discuss research findings early on and create dialogue with community stakeholders and criminal justice organizations about these findings, so our community partners don't have to wait two years until findings of interest to them are published,” said Sandra Bucerius, inaugural director of the Centre for Criminological Research (CCR).
“There's a real focus on bringing people together—particularly those who work in the criminal justice system and those who experience it—and looking at how those experiences are shaped by race, gender, addictions, ethnicity, religion and so on.”
The only centre of its kind in Western Canada, the CCR will complement the Department of Sociology’s existing bachelor’s degree program, which department chair Sara Dorow calls “theory driven, but also a model for how to work with multiple kinds of people and partnerships in the community.
“We want to be able to use our findings to inspire critical public discussion about topics that matter in the criminal and social justice world,” including sensitive issues like the value of safe-injection sites, the complexities around decarceration or the value of school-resource officers.
In addition to fast-tracking research findings, the centre will serve as a hub for visiting speakers, post-doctoral fellows, public reports and conferences, said Dorow. It will also expose graduate students to “rigorous research methods and public and community-engaged work.”
The launch marks the second time a criminology centre has been based at the U of A. A former iteration, founded in the late 1970s, petered out in the late ’90s as faculty members with expertise in the area retired or moved on, said Dorow.
For the past seven years the sociology department has expanded its capacity, and now has seven criminologists, she said. Besides Bucerius, they include Kevin Haggerty, Bryan Hogeveen, Jana Grekul, Temitope Oriola, Marta-Marika Urbanik and Holly Campeau.
The centre will initially focus on police and prisons, but will eventually expand to consider other institutions and social determinants affecting the justice system, said Bucerius, such as socio-legal studies, decolonial relations, addictions, human rights, religion and inequality.
“We want to bring together academics not just within criminology and sociology, but also across other disciplines at the U of A, and more broadly from other academic and social justice institutions,” said Bucerius.
Approved by the U of A’s board of governors in June, the centre has received strong support from within the university and from the community and justice stakeholders, she added.
Chris Andersen, dean of the Faculty of Native Studies, calls the new centre a crucial hub for research “undertaken in conjunction with Indigenous communities on the lived realities of Indigenous men and women who have been victimized in their contact with the criminal justice system.
“The study of crime and criminal justice institutions in particular—with a particular emphasis on the lived experiences of marginalized individuals and groups, including Indigenous incarcerated persons—is of great importance in any understanding of Canada’s historical and contemporary landscape.”
To celebrate its launch, the centre will host an international conference on criminology in the fall, said Bucerius. It will bring together “some of the top scholars in the field around prisons and punishment.”