“The Criminal Class” in American Policy

In his exploration of America’s punitive turn at the end of the twentieth century, legal scholar Jonathan Simon examines the publications of Cesare Lombroso  (1825-1909), often called the “father” of positivist criminology , to create a policy template for the American criminal justice system. To clarify, a positivist criminologist applies methods characteristic of the natural sciences to explain criminality. Simon finds that American penal policy traditionally assumes that crime stems from a distinct class of people[1]. Such people, positivism suggests, inherently lean towards law-breaking and as such, require isolation and incapacitation. Simon considers that the increase in incarceration and halt of therapeutic rehabilitation between 1975 and 1985 reflect an anti-scientific approach to crime. This approach contrasts with the state’s prior view and its repression of crime through positivist-endorsed mechanisms, including eugenics, medicine, educational, and penal measures[2].

However, Simon contends that the ideas of crime control as science and the distinct, dangerous “criminal type” remain in the American criminal justice system. As such, though 1980s policy emphasized retribution and deterrence, it also simultaneously instituted positivist measures such as pretrial detention. Likewise, the incarcerated classes reflect those that positivism traditionally targets, “including the poor, recent immigrants, and minorities”[3]. In fact, when famed sociologist Charles A. Ellwood celebrated the English publication of Lombroso’s work in 1912, he noted that if Lombroso’s theory of crime “…is at all correct, it is evident that the criminal class is not essentially different in its genesis from the pauper class”[4] I should note here, though that Ellwood also argued that this parallelism was not explicit in Lombroso’s thought processes.

Simon argues that contemporary American crime policy represents a synthesis between the scientifically based findings and protective measures of Lombrosan positivism and the adjudicative control of state institutions. American crime control reflects the synthesis in its incorporation of extralegal danger assessments for selecting prosecution subjects as well as prosecutors’ flexibility to pursue extended isolation and repression for especially dangerous criminals[5].

 Simon concludes by discussing that though Lombroso remains largely forgotten by the general public, his “project” of linking state institutions and resources with scientific and cultural assumptions and his framing of crime as a mortal threat to the state remains embedded in American crime consciousness. Simon’s analysis reveals the social nature and links between both scientific and legal policy, constantly shifting between outlining origins and detailing why the American state provided such fertile ground for positivist approaches to criminality. Additionally, he illustrates the importance of recognizing “where change holds sway and where continuity”[6]. In identifying an intuitive but false assumption regarding policy change, Simon convincingly argues that Lombroso’s influence persists. In short, Simon’s historical research demonstrates what Zelizer might call the institutional and cultural persistence of Lombrosan positivism as well as the process evolution of the criminal justice system[7].

In conclusion, Simon’s analysis holds value for historians and criminologists alike in its model of systematically discussing and deconstructing the theoretical and cultural bases of a seemingly objective system. Likewise, it hold value for policymakers in its call to reassess the biases encoded in the criminal justice system and for its presence in a policy-targeted journal. However, if Simon were to argue his points more succinctly and in a more publicly available format, his call might resonate more forcefully.

RECOMMENDED READING

Bernard, Thomas J., Jeffrey B. Snipes, and Alexander L. Gerould. “Biological Factors and Criminal Behavior” in Vold’s Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Heidt, Jon, and Johannes P. Wheeldon. “Biological Positivist Theories” in Introducing criminological thinking: Maps, theories, and understanding. 38-58. Sage Publications, 2014.

Simon, Jonathan. “Positively punitive: How the inventor of scientific criminology who died at the beginning of the twentieth century continues to haunt American crime control at the beginning of the twenty-first.” Tex. L. Rev. 84 (2005): 2135-2172.

Wolfgang, Marvin E. “Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso (1825-1909).” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 52, no. 4 (Winter 1961): 361-391.


[1] Jonathan Simon, “Positively Punitive: How the Inventor of Scientific Criminology Who Died at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Continues to Haunt American Crime Control at the Beginning of the Twenty-First,” Texas Law Review 84, no. 2135 (2006): 2138.

[2] Simon, “Positively Punitive: How the Inventor of Scientific Criminology Who Died at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Continues to Haunt American Crime Control at the Beginning of the Twenty-First,”, 2168.

[3] Ibid, 2169.

[4] Ellwood, Charles A. “Lombroso’s theory of crime.” J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 2 (1911): 723.

[5] Simon, “Positively Punitive: How The Inventory of Scientific Criminology Who Died at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Continues to Haunt American Crime Control at the Beginning of the Twenty-First,”, 2170.

[6] Otis L. Graham, Jr. “The Uses and Misuses of History: Roles in Policymaking,” The Public Historian 5, no. 2 (1983): 12.

[7] Julian E. Zelizer, “Clio’s Lost Tribe: Public Policy History Since 1978,” Journal of Policy History 12, no. 3 (2000): 383-388.


This essay was adapted from a review I wrote for a graduate level history course.

Teaching Humility to Stop Stealing Dreams

So, last post I plan to have under the GEDI header for a while.

My reflection from this last week’s readings (mainly Dan Edelstein’s educator manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams“) surrounds my own teaching philosophy. As I said at the start of this blog, these posts are exercises in humility and invitations to learn. But to learn what? Well, in my case, mainly how to teach criminology.

But that’s not all. Criminology, is by its very nature, controversial. What perspective do I teach from? A focal concerns perspective, where I assume that members of the criminal justice system adopt a humanitarian yet dispassionate or rational attitude towards sentencing? How then, do I address the concerns of those most victimized by the criminal justice system, which constantly makes decisions on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity? Going deeper, how do I look my students in the eye and ask for their trust and cooperation when I’m teaching something that largely erases their perspectives, their experiences, and can be used to justify injustice? By the same token, how do I address the fact that this framework does have evidence supporting it in certain situations, is often a reflection on community opinion, and is important to understand for students who might be considering a career in criminal justice or criminology?

In other words, I not only need to transfer information and guide interpretations, I also need to teach students how to talk about and think about controversial topics, how to rectify how systems work with the values they extol, and how historical injustices affect our current everyday lives.

And what’s the value of that? Well, to quote Edelstein:

When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete. When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us. “

But to teach these, I have to learn these. Well, how do I go about doing that?

You guessed it, humility.

The humility that allows me to let go of the safe and established but ineffective educational models, even though I am put in a more vulnerable position.

The humility that allows me to step away from an authoritarian classroom and encourage my students to decide the course of our discussion and, by extension, curriculum.

The humility that allows me to, as Edelstein puts it, commit to learn even though I recognize that I might fail.

And make no mistake, I fully expect to fail in some of my efforts. But if I don’t try, I don’t learn. If I don’t learn, I can’t meaningfully teach. And if I can’t meaningfully teach, then I am not helping to calibrate passion or dreams, I am in effect, encouraging at least a partial abandonment of pursuing those passions. I am not only wasting time, I am stealing dreams.

And that is one thing I will never willingly do.

Thank you for following my posts so far. I hope you’ll come back for my updates!

Reflection: A Precarious Student Turns Into a Precarious Professor


So, some background on your favorite criminologist*. When I was in college, I was not exactly the ideal student. I displayed excellent writing skills, participated in a lot of different clubs, tackled difficult subjects head on, and continually improved my ability to look critically at a variety of issues, seeing the logic or rationale behind arguments that I might have thought ridiculous at first glance. But I was also constantly late in getting to class, I couldn’t afford much in the way of resources, and needed assignment extensions throughout my last year. If it hadn’t been for a bit of luck and a lot of support from family, friends, and my understanding professors, I may very well have failed out of college. In some of these respects, I still have issues.

In short, I was what Rajiv Jhangiani would call a “precarious student“. I was someone who did not, who COULD not afford to make college coursework a top priority, much less his first. I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say I’ve been dealing with elder care giving, institutional screw-ups of the financial persuasion, and/or inconvenient timing with a variety of health issues (not always my own) since I was eleven years old. And as of next semester, I’m also slated to start teaching an undergraduate course.


I am not a tenure-track professor, I am not a paid instructor, I’m not even an adjunct faculty member, I am a doctoral student who will be teaching Peace and Violence. Not the most precarious position, but hardly what I’d call secure. Nevertheless, I carry a moral duty to help students avoid the institutional obstacles which blocked myself and my peers in college.** That starts with my classroom and how we, that is, the students and I, operate it. As part of my efforts to implement a critical pedagogy which I define as “teaching and learning as a shared interaction to challenge the preconceived knowledge and perceptions leading to individual empowerment and social change” as well as an open pedagogy which allows us (again, students and I) to counter structural obstacles, I submit several excerpts from my initial syllabus for my upcoming Peace and Violence class for scrutiny and feedback. These excerpts reflect my current strategies to challenge systemic issues with grading, resource access, and the student-professor power dynamics.

Resource Access

REQUIRED TEXTS

There is no text book for this class. However, as part of this semester’s coursework, I expect you to find and read a book on a relevant topic to this class.  If there is a book you want to read but are having difficulty acquiring, let me know ASAP and I will do what I can. 

SOME NOTES

Unless otherwise instructed, technology including laptops, tablets, netbooks, and mobile phones are permitted within the classroom. However, phones should be silenced and stored whenever possible unless you can demonstrate that you’re using it to take notes. Refrain from using social media, sending messages, checking the news, reviewing sports standings, or watching videos. If you need to send out a message or make a phone call, be quick and discreet or exit the classroom until you have finished. If you cause a distraction, you will be asked to stop. Twice, and you will be asked to leave.




Grades

SOME NOTES
I do not take attendance, however, if you miss a participatory activity in class it will go down as a zero unless you have an excused absence or promptly contacted me regarding missing the class. In either event, I will have you complete a substitute exercise.

GRADING

I handle grades in this class a little unusually. I don’t use grades as a punishment.

Rather, you will receive feedback on what you’ve done and what you need to work on. As long as you give an honest effort to meet the course requirements, you will not have an issue. I will give updates bi-weekly and will  ensure that you receive some feedback,.

The only grade that will carry formal weight will be the final grade, which will report whether or not you’ve made this effort and should be allowed to proceed onto higher level courses.

In particular, I look for the following:

-Class Discussion or Participation

-Information Retention

-Meaningful Analysis

-Critical Thinking



Power

JIGSAW WEEKS
During these weeks, you will pick one of a set of designated readings and you will become an “expert” on  it.  Towards the end of class on Monday, you will spend fifteen minutes with the other “experts”. On Wednesday, you will spend half the class in a group where you will discuss the key themes of your reading and hear others do the same. You will then bring these themes together into a meaningful product to share with the rest of the class. Guidelines and suggestions will be given during each session.

WHAT THIS COURSE IS NOT

While I expect you to be skeptical of assumptions and to find some of the information here shocking, I do not reward disrespect. Be attentive, be quiet and listen when others are speaking, and do not stigmatize others for their ignorance.

IF YOU NEED TO TALK OR HAVE CONCERNS
I understand that students sometimes have needs which might clash with the rules. I am open to making reasonable accommodations. I can be reached via e-mail or in person during my office hours. If there’s an emergency, let me know ASAP. If you require accommodations or have concerns about a course requirement(s), please feel free to contact me.

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE

The final two weeks of class will be devoted to students discussing what they have learned from this class, how they want to act on that knowledge, and where we want to go in future courses.

Whether you’re a GEDI participant, a colleague of mine, a prospective student, or someone who happened to stumble on this entry, please feel free to offer your own thoughts, concerns, and questions.

* Your favorite criminologist is still in training at the time of this entry.
** I carry many more moral obligations, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on this one.

EDIT (4/16/19): The current syllabus for Peace and Violence can be found here. (Opens in new tab)

How to Fix a Problem You Can’t Diagnose

Short Answer: You can’t.

Long Answer: In my reflections on this week’s class readings, I’ve noticed that defenses for traditional undergraduate grading share one thing in common: an appeal to diagnosis. In other words, defenders argue that it’s important to measure how well students are learning and teachers are teaching.

Yeah, a couple of questions there.

First, according to whose definition of well? Faith in “evidence-based” standards for grading assume a criteria for success that must remain unchallenged. In other words, advocates for this model assume a near-universal ideal of objectivity on the part of decision makers. That position poses problems, to put it mildly.

Second, assume I agree its important to measure how well a student is learning or how well a teacher is teaching. How does the current grading system accomplish that? It basically falls to an instructor to give an arbitrary ranking based on some constructed criteria without any justification behind it. It doesn’t offer any context or information to either the teacher or the student beyond “get better or face consequences”. That didn’t work for me in my efforts to improve my handwriting, it didn’t work for dealing with my depression and anxiety, and it sure as sugar didn’t work for my geometry class in high school. I doubt (not without merit) that it fares much better for others, either.

That leads to the fundamental issue I have with traditional grading models. Their purpose (the main argument for their defense) and their function fail to connect. One is diagnostic while the other is prescriptive. As one of my favorite professors is fond of saying, it’s “putting the cart before the horse” (illustration below).

Tevye’s Model of Traditional Grading
(Photo courtesy of Florida Theater on Stage)

Let me explain. A diagnostic tells you how well what you’re doing lines up with what you want or need to accomplish. Its merit lies in the indicators it offers for what is lacking. It mainly deals with what’s happening or what’s already happened. Prescriptive deals more with method and rules to address issues. In this context, grading is designed around a diagnostic ideal but functions as a prescriptive indicator or rank. If your rank is low, find out what you’re doing wrong, because the grade sure won’t tell you. If your rank is high, you don’t need feedback, you’re doing just fine. Seems backwards, doesn’t it?

All that leads to my third question. What alternatives are there? Well, to be brief: lots. There’s the option to utilize portfolios with comments and feedback as opposed to a numeric ranking. There’s the option to negotiate standards and rubrics while using minimized ranking. There’s the option to forgo ranks altogether and focus on a seminar model. However, until educators, students, and administrators alike come together and negotiate a challenge to the status quo, at best these methods will likely function as stopgap measures. However, as the saying goes: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” The rest will come from our joint struggle.

GEDI Blogging and Humility

This reflection comes from the GEDI readings for this week, the links for which can be found at the bottom of this post.

This blog works as an exercise in humility. What does that mean? I mean that every time I post, comment, or reply to a comment, I make a public statement: “I am still learning. Read these words, and you’ll see my progress.” What’s more, I create an invitation. “Come learn with me.” At first glance, my idea might seem either painfully obvious or hopelessly idealistic. The beauty of the matter? It could be either or both of those things, but the idea is no less significant.

By using this blog to document my reflections and relating them to my academic interests, I give future students a show of trust. In doing so, I embrace not only hope but also accept consequences. I accept the hope that in doing so, they might know that they need not fear sharing partially-developed ideas or asking questions with me or (ideally) in the classroom. But likewise, I accept the consequence that comes by lowering myself in a public view. Lowering myself might very well lead to being viewed as foolish by students, leading to issues of respect in the classroom. It might lead to being considered idealistic by colleagues, leading to hesitancy sharing their progress with me. It might lead to being considered less professional by superiors, leading to increased scrutiny of my work.

Or maybe it might lead to none of these things as the blog never gets over a single reader. But I accept these possibilities and their ramifications because by posting to this blog, I, and by extension all the GEDI students, make several statements:

  • I am honest.  I’m honest about who I am. I don’t know everything about anything, and that’s okay. You can see progress. It’s linked to my peers and represents me as I am in the moment, and I choose to make that public.
  • We help each other.You can see us share our thoughts and learn from one another. We accept critiques and praise alike.
  • We’re committed to learning. Our blogs document not only our path towards becoming better writers or educators, but act as a reminder to students that learning persists throughout life, and begins by saying “I don’t know everything, but I’d like to learn a little about something.”

Reading Links Copied From Week One of the Spring 2019 Contemporary Pedagogy Course.

Hello world!

My name is Jon LLoyd. I am a doctoral student at Virginia Tech in the Department of Sociology. My research interests include Hate Crime Prevention, Victimology of Hate Crimes, Criminology and Public Policy, Sociology of Religion, Sociology of Digital Culture, History of Technology, and the History and Sociology of Hate Groups.

I am currently in the final stages of defending my MS Thesis,”Hate Managers and Where They Target: An Analysis of Hate Crime as Hate Group Self-Help”, which basically explores the ideas that defensive-motivated hate crimes should actually be viewed as an illegal form of social control and that hate groups act as managers who provide the resources necessary for such acts.

I earned my Bachelor of Arts in both History and Sociology from Concord University in 2015, where I also performed archival research into and interviews with Eastern Orthodox pilgrims and monastics in the contiguous United States, contributing my findings that the Orthodox monastic community historically influences not only adherent’s spiritual life, but their political and social views as well.

I’m looking forward to growing and stimulating my intellectual curiosity through my future blog posts. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask through whatever is most convenient for you.