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by Peter Moskos

April 15, 2008

The raw excitment of criminal-justice

I was interviewed tonight by a good writer from a prominent local magazine. I ate and drank very well, thank you very much.

It was a nice chat. Toward the end, I was asked a softball question and couldn’t really make contact. “What’s the most exciting thing happening right now in the criminal justice field right?” I couldn’t really think of a good answer (other than my book, of course). That probably says more about me than it does about the field. But the field is somewhat to blame.

Biking home, I thought about this. One "proper" answer is the field of reentry. All those millions of people locked up are going to get out. What are we, as society, going to do about them? Answer: probably nothing. But there is lots of good stuff going on in field of reentry. But that's not really my field.

As for police-related research, I think the most exciting research is yet to be done. There are some people in the field doing interesting hands-on research (Venkatesh comes immediately to mind). But the bulk of researchers generally do out-of-touch quantitative work. There's more to the real world than statistically significant correlations.

I think there's more thought-provoking and real-world value in the average Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker article than there is in the average article in American Journal of Sociology. That's a shame.

Why aren't academics examining the merits of foot patrol? Why aren't academics more interested in the field of police discretion? Why aren't more professors really studying why the murder rate went down, what can we do to lower it more, and how can we keep it down? Why aren't more sociologists doing research that actually involves talking to people? Why aren't more professors interested in police and crime prevention? The general public certainly is. I don't have the answers.

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