Criminology Convict Criminology
Stephen C. Richards
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0237


Convict criminology (CC) is the study of crime and prisons by ex-convict academics and associated critical and radical scholars. Work appears in both academic and mass-market venues, and may include discussions of how imprisonment is experienced depending upon social class, race, and gender. There is also an emphasis on time, space, resources, and public policy. This is a “New Criminology” led by former prisoners who are now academic faculty that merge their past with their present and provide a provocative approach to the study of how defendants, prisoners, and former prisoners experience the criminal justice system in different countries. In 1997 CC was founded as an academic collective in the United States by ex-convict criminology professors and graduate students following a series of informal meetings at the American Society of Criminology annual meetings. In 2011 the British Convict Criminology Group was started at the British Society of Criminology (BSC) annual conference. Before 1997 there were a few ex-convict social scientists, notably Tannebaum beginning in the 1920s and Irwin in the 1970s. Although their works discussed the views of prisoners, they did not self-identify or discuss their own experience as convicts in their academic publications. In 1997 Irwin, Richards, Jones, Newbold, Murphy, Terry, and Mobley began CC because of their profound frustration with the mainstream criminology literature that failed to adequately represent the realities of the criminal justice system, including jails and prisons, ignoring what convicts know about imprisonment. In response, these former prisoners, along with a larger group of radical and critical criminologists, developed their own CC Theoretical Perspective that included the ex-convict academics writing about their own personal experience with jail and prison. Together they built a new literature consisting primarily of essays, articles, and books that explores the damage done by mass incarceration in modern industrial states. The group is organized as a voluntary writing and activist collective, with no formal membership or assignment of leadership roles. Different members assume responsibility for assorted functions: for example, lead author on academic articles, research proposals, program assessments, mentoring ex-convict students and junior faculty, or taking responsibility for speaking to the media. The group continues to grow as more prisoners exit prison to attend universities. Typically, new members “come out” when they are introduced to the academic community at ASC or BSC conferences. In 2017 the CC group included men and women ex-con academics from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.


Many of these titles have been adopted by instructors for undergraduate or graduate courses on convict criminology. The first book published about convict criminology—sometimes called the manifesto of the convict criminology movement—is Ross and Richards 2003. For an understanding of the foundations of CC see classic works such as Irwin 1970, Newbold 1982, and Newbold 1989, as well as the historical biography Yeager 2016. More recent accounts of the use of the convict criminology perspective to better comprehend the reality of prison include Irwin 2005 and Tregea 2014. Richards 2015 analyzes high-security penitentiaries and solitary confinement. The edited volume Ekunwe and Jones Richard 2011 published in Finland includes chapters on prisoner reentry to the community in the United States and Europe. Ross and Richards 2009 is a popular book with prison and parole administrators, prisoners and former prisoners, and criminology students. These works explore developments in convict culture, prisoner typologies, convict perspectives on how they are treated in jail and prison, conditions of confinement, reentry issues and policy implications, political manipulation of the public’s fear of crime to expand the reach of the criminal justice system, and the unintentional creation of a felony underclass.

  • Ekunwe, Ikponwosa O., and S. Jones Richard, eds. 2011. Global perspectives on re-entry. Tampere, Finland: Univ. of Tampere Press.

    Both editors are ex-convicts who are now professors. Edited book that includes papers presented at a conference in Finland organized by the convict criminology group. Chapters discuss issues and problems of prisoner reentry In Estonia, Greece, Russia, Finland, Germany, Canada, Romania, and the United States. Many of the chapters contain specific policy recommendations.

  • Irwin, John. 1970. The felon. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Written by an ex-convict, this book was developed from Irwin’s dissertation at UC Berkeley. The book is a classic, written in a raw, realistic style. In his books written many years later Irwin suggested that the major thesis of The Felon still held true. Prisoners are subjected to routines and experiences that greatly increase their punishment, make reentry more difficult, and produce profound alienation as they are treated inhumanely. A close reading of the footnotes reveals Irwin’s ex-con status.

  • Irwin, John. 2005. The warehouse prison: Disposal of the new dangerous class. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

    This is a study conducted at a medium-security prison in California that includes a historical discussion of prisons and how they have changed over the years. This quick overview of the last three hundred years of capital punishment, torture, transportation to colonies, and the first prisons illustrates how England and the United States attempted to contain and control the “dangerous classes.”

  • Newbold, Greg. 1982. The big huey. Auckland, New Zealand: Collins.

    A candid narrative of the five years the author spent in New Zealand’s maximum, medium, and minimum-security prisons between 1975 and 1980. Includes his personal experiences with the daily routine, convict culture, and the social organization of three prisons. This book was a bestseller in New Zealand.

  • Newbold, Greg. 1989. Punishment and politics: The maximum security prison in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Newbold is an ex-convict who is now a professor. A social and political history of New Zealand’s maximum-security prison since 1945. Based on knowledge Newbold gained as a convict while in maximum security prison, and on interviews with a large number of inmates, staff, and public officials who served in the New Zealand justice system. Supplemented by official reports and newspaper articles.

  • Richards, Stephen C., ed. 2015. The Marion experiment: Long-term solitary confinement and the supermax movement. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

    The editor is an ex-convict who served time in nine federal prisons, including Marion before earning his PhD in criminology. He argues the supermax prison era began in 1983 at the United States Penitentiary Marion in southern Illinois, where the first “control units” were built by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Includes chapters about how the use of supermax incarceration spread from the United Sates to Canada, Great Britain, France, and Israel.

  • Ross, Jeffrey I., and Stephen C. Richards, eds. 2003. Convict criminology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    The first and most important book about convict criminology. This is the first time ex-convict criminologists appear in a book together. Introduces the new school of convict criminology, including definitions, goals, and research parameters. This is a collection of original chapters written by criminologists, half of whom are ex-convicts. A comprehensive text that covers prison life, prisoner reentry to the community, and research on prisons.

  • Ross, Jeffrey I., and Stephen C. Richards. 2009. Beyond bars: Rejoining society after prison. New York: Alpha/Penguin.

    Published Behind Bars (2002) and then Beyond Bars (2009) as important mass-market books widely adopted in the United States by both university instructors of undergraduate criminology courses, as well as by college programs inside prisons. Based on their real-life experience they invent two fictional characters—Jill Convict and Joe Convict—and then follow them from their last day in prison as they prepare for release and then return home to a less than welcome reception in the community. The male prison in both books is US Penitentiary Leavenworth, while the female prison is Taycheedah Correctional Institution (Wisconsin), of which the Ross and Richards have intimate knowledge.

  • Tregea, William S. 2014. Prisoners on criminology convict life stories and crime prevention. London: Lexington Books.

    Draws on thirty years of teaching prison college courses in eleven Michigan and California prisons to give prisoners a voice. Over eighty prisoner essays show how prisoners connect criminology theories to their lives growing up, with insights on individual, family, and community levels of crime causation. Uses convict criminology theoretical ideas to frame and develop what the prisoners report in their essays.

  • Yeager, Matthew G. 2016. Frank Tannebaum: The making of a convict criminologist. New York: Routledge.

    Yeager discusses how Tannebaum’s politics resulted in a federal prison sentence, which led to a career exploring how prisons were used to control and oppress the working class. This historical biographic work traces the life of Frank Tannebaum from his early years as public intellectual, through his time as a convict, and then his long career as a social science professor at Columbia University. Yeager explores Tannebaum’s major contributions to criminological theory and his influence on convict criminology.

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