My dissertation, “Towards a Sociology of Mercy: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Commutation Release in the United States,” explores an underutilized form of mercy in current US penal practice, commutation release. Commutation is a form clemency that allows for an executive (the president in the Federal system and typically the governor in state systems) to order a reduction in a prisoner's sentence.
Quantitatively, I examine who is being released through commutation and in what context commutation release occurs. I also explore how individual level characteristics (such as race and gender) interact with state level characteristics (such as governor political affiliation) to structure an individual's odds of being released through this mechanism.
Qualitatively, I examine the commutation process in four states: Iowa, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Using written documents such as polices and laws, observations and transcripts from commutation hearings, and commutation applications I seek to uncover the way that bureaucratic structures and policies may facilitate or hinder commutation release, identify themes which emerge in successful pleas for mercy, and explore the way that these successful cases may be shaped by dimensions of stratification, race, gender, and class.
Funding for my dissertation has improved my research tremendously, I am grateful for the Anna Welsch Bright Award, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Feminist Criminology Scholarship from the American Society of Criminology Division on Women and Crime, the Dissertation Scholarship from the American Society of Criminology Division on Corrections and Sentencing, and the Mixed-Methods Interdisciplinary Graduate Group Scholarship from the University of Minnesota.
I am currently working as a Research Assistant under Co-Investigator Chris Uggen for the Minnesota team of a muti-state study of monetary sanctions (fines, fees, surcharges) lead by PI Alexes Harris at the University of Washington. To date, we have completed a thorough law and policy review of monetary sanctions in Minnesota, interviewed over 60 defendants, obtained automated data of monetary sanctions throughout the state and have started to interview legal actors and conduct courtroom observations in six Minnesota Counties.
Under PI Chris Uggen, a few other members of the Monetary Sanctions team (Robert Stewart, Kim Spencer-Suarez, Emmi Obara, and Frank Edwards) and I received a grant from the Institute for Poverty Research at the University of Wisconsin to explore the combined impact of criminal justice debt and child support debt on individuals. In this mixed methods study we will quantitatively explore the way these two systems of debt overlap and interact. Qualitatively we will interview individuals who have experienced both types of debt and learn about their experiences.
Caregivers for Children of Incarcerated Parents
As a student investigator (with student investigator Caitlin Curry), under the guidance of PIs Joshua Page and Damir Utržan, I have recently begun interviewing individuals who become caregivers of children whose parents become incarcerated. This project, funded by the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshops, College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, will both fill an important void in academic scholarship and have strong implications for policy.
Evangelical Activism and Prison Reform
In my newest project, under the guidance of Dr. Penny Edgell, I am using focus group data to attempt to reconcile two seemingly contradictory conclusions that scholars have drawn about white Evangelicals. First, that Evangelicals tend to have more punitive attitudes than those in other religious (or nonreligious) groups. Second, that Evangelicals have played a major role in advocating for recent prison reforms. Through a qualitative examination of discourse I will attempt to uncover how white Evangelicals see rehabilitation--what it is, what looks like, who can achieve it, and why.
I am nearing completion on an intersectional analysis of drug court. Working with Dr. Teresa Gowan we closely examine ways that the race and gender of drug court clients intersect to structure their treatment in court and ability to successfully complete the court's requirements.
No Contact Orders
Another project, close to completion, is an examination of criminal no contact orders issued in cases of domestic violence. Working with Ryan Larson, Allison Nobles, Victoria Piehowski, and Dr. Josh Page we examine the way that these criminal orders have been implemented in one Minnesota County, highlighting the varied types of conduct that can result in a felony conviction and the racial disparities that result from a recently enacted law.