Crime and Justice, a Sit-Down with Dr. Daniel P. Mears

downloadThe College of Criminology’s modern interior comes as a surprise to visitors; the building in which it resides, Eppes Hall, is an original landmark to Florida State’s campus. Climbing the stairs to Dr. Daniel P. Mears’ office was a workout in itself, but the group of offices at the top of the landing has a welcoming and scholarly ambiance, much like Dr. Mears himself. His spacious office is well organized, and the professor checks a large book of his appointments as we sit down for the interview. Dr. Mears, who hails from the East Coast, received his Bachelor’s from Haverford College, and went on to attain a Master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin. Recently named a 2018 Fellow of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), Dr. Mears takes a look back at what drew him to the study of criminology and Florida State’s nationally acclaimed College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“I’m originally from New Hampshire. After high school, I went to Haverford College and received a degree in sociology, then bounced around a bit. I served in the Peace Corps in Micronesia, then worked at a residential center with children who were delinquent and, at the same time, had significant histories of abuse. Eventually, I applied to several doctoral programs in sociology, and ultimately decided on the University of Texas at Austin. I met my wife, Emily, there. After she completed her Ph.D. and I wrapped up a post-doctoral fellowship, we transitioned to Washington, D.C. I worked at a nonpartisan “think tank,” the Urban Institute, and she worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). I continued my focus on applying and testing theory while also evaluating crime and justice programs and policies. Much of my work focused on juvenile justice reforms, prisoner reentry, and supermax prisons. After our son, Eli, was born, the opportunity to work at Florida State University arose and, at the same time, my wife had a chance to work at the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), Florida’s counterpart to the GAO.”

When asked about his decision to become a faculty member at FSU, he noted his peers and Dean of the College. Florida State University’s College of Criminology is recognized as one of the best in the nation. The College is comprised of acclaimed professors from around the country. To read more about their research, please click here.

“I interviewed at several places. Some were primarily interested in theory-driven research, not policy-focused work. The College’s Dean and the faculty, however, embraced a multidisciplinary and multi-method approach to research, including research with a strong theoretical and empirical foundation that could also be policy-focused. So, it was a natural fit.”

Dr. Mears recalls that his undergraduate journey was similar to those who struggle to find their path as young adults.

“I floundered as an undergraduate. When I arrived at graduate school, I realized that I needed to take charge of figuring out what interested me and that, whatever it was, that it would have ‘real-world’ implications. When I was in graduate school, violent crime rates were escalating. The country was coming off of over a decade of historically unprecedented growth in corrections. We had states like California and Texas that witnessed a tripling or quadrupling of their prison populations. In Texas, you had this weird phenomenon happening that made crime and justice really interesting; you had a Democrat running against a Republican on a tough-on-crime platform, which was not a traditional Democratic platform. It was in my backyard. And, nationally, there were parallels, including a tough-on-crime policy mindset. Crime was on the rise. Public opinion was shifting. For researchers, it created lots of interesting possibilities for exploring what drove these changes and identifying their consequences. On a related front, I had worked at the residential center with delinquent children, so I had an appreciation for some of the factors that go into delinquency. It helped shape my understanding of crime and how to respond to it. I saw that the kids were more than the crimes that they had committed. They had backgrounds of severe abuse and neglect. Some had been prostituted and separated from siblings. They all had experienced trauma. Yet, they also had done terrible things. So, on the one hand, you are extraordinarily sympathetic. On the other hand, they’ve broken laws and hurt people. How do you respond? How do you deal with someone who has experienced so much dysfunction? That experience and those questions came back to me when I was in graduate school and have stayed with me since when studying crime and justice.”

On November 14th in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Mears will be honored as a 2018 Fellow of the American Society of Criminology (ASC). The ASC, an organization that includes researchers whose contributions to the scholarly and scientific study of criminology merit international recognition, is honoring Dr. Mears for his work in policy research and the study of criminal systems. I asked him about why he believes he was honored.

“I believe that in part it is because of my work in a number of substantive areas, including the causes of crime, what shapes public opinion, the impacts of mass incarceration and reentry, and the effects of solitary confinement. At the same time, a lot of my work has cross-cutting themes, such as a focus on systems, theory and policy, and use of quantitative and qualitative data to answer questions. These themes inform most of what I’ve done, and are likely what help my work have relevance both for social science and for policy.”

Dr. Mears maintains that his favorite part about teaching here at Florida State University is his interaction with colleagues and the students. He teaches courses on criminological and criminal justice theory, juvenile justice, reentry, and corrections.

“I find teaching very challenging and very enjoyable. Part of the challenge is to tease out students’ interests. My job is to try to give them different tools to assess what they know and what they do not know. Just as importantly, it is to help them appreciate what kind of research is credible and allows for greater insight into crime and justice. Ultimately, I hope to instill a researcher sensibility that they can use to think about the world around them.”

Dr. Daniel Mears is the Mark C. Stafford Professor of Criminology at Florida State University. To learn more about his work, please click here.


Written by Zoe Zirlin, FSU Class of 2020

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