Vol. 33 No. 02 (February 2023) pp. 20-23

CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY FOR THE FUTURE, by Jeffrey Ian Ross & Francesca Vianello (eds.). Oxon and New York, 2021. pp.217. ISBN 978- 0-367-86015-8.

Reviewed by Danica Darley. Department of Sociological Studies. The University of Sheffield. Email:

Contributions to the book CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY FOR THE FUTURE come from both the editors and others who identify with the convict criminologist movement. The contributors come from across the globe, bringing together a diverse range of perspectives on convict criminology for the first time, who offer their hopes for the advancement of this important aspect of criminological research. As a convict criminologist from the U.K. I found this book to be interesting, but challenging at points. Overall, it makes a cohesive and important argument for the future of this sub-discipline of criminology. The book is of particular importance to those with an interest in critical criminology, auto-ethnography, scholar activism, and the value of lived experience in the pursuit of the democratization of knowledge. It reflects well on the varied and complicated ways that convict criminology has been established in different parts of the world, and sets out a cohesive, yet flexible, call to action for the development of the movement.

Chapter two of the book entitled CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING by Jeffrey Ian Ross offers a valuable oversight of the history of the “Convict Criminology” (CC) movement. It clearly explains what it is and what it is not and offers historical and socio-political contexts which help explain the establishment and rise of the group. Ross suggests that convict criminology was born over time in the 1990’s. It was built on the tradition in criminology and criminal justice that has often challenged traditional and orthodox practices, as well as efforts to change our agencies of power and control for the better. He goes on to offer a structural account of its development, emphasizing the importance of social movements, such as the 1960’s civil rights, anti war, peace and prisoner movements. These left-wing and progressive movements saw the development of initiatives in prisons teaching prisoners numeracy and literacy. Interestingly, Ross links the development of CC to pedagogical developments influenced by Paolo Friere who advocated for participatory learning. This extended prison learning beyond basic numeracy and literacy skills to the teaching of both practical and academic subjects that were considered useful for people after leaving prison.

For me, as an aspiring convict criminologist myself, the mentorship aspect of the CC movement that Ross discusses is interesting. This has definitely, informally, been my experience of CC, and I have benefited from the mentorship of convict criminologist, Rod Earle. However, the book clearly illustrates that this mentorship is a very informal process, happening to a greater or lesser extent in different parts of the world. The book does a good job of recognizing this postcode lottery, and carefully considers different ways in which the mentorship could be specifically tailored to different geographical locations. The book also reinforces the importance of activism in convict criminology, stemming from the larger body of critical criminology and influenced by the work of the feminist movement. Ross’ chapter argues that activism can lead to effective policy changes in the criminal justice system through critical analysis of its work and thorough research that aims to change and reform the system.

For me, Ross’s chapter, although it does make a great case for CC and sets out clearly the intentions of the movement, gives a sense of CC having been developed in a criminal justice vacuum. Although acknowledgement is given to the social and political conditions, which enabled the rise of the CC movement, little is said about the influence of other sectors and disciplines on the movement. I argue that the evolution of the CC movement owes much to other social movements, such as the “Nothing About Us Without Us” disability movement (Charlton, 1998). and an acknowledgement of the doors that this movement opened for CC would be a welcome addition to the book.

Throughout the book, I feel more attention could have been given to the long standing debate about the language used to describe the participants of the movement. Personally, I do not like the term “convict” criminology. Although I understand the arguments laid out very clearly by Ortiz et al (2022) in their article entitled LET THE CONVICTS SPEAK, I find myself cringing every time the distinction is made between ex-cons and non-cons. Ross does go on to acknowledge this uneasiness in a note at the end of the chapter, however I feel, given the complexity and importance of language, that in this situation, a more detailed discussion could have been useful.

Chapter three of the book entitled CROSSING BORDERS, PUSHING BOUNDARIES AND PRIVILEGING “MARGINALIZED” VOICES by Sinem Safak Bozkurt, Marisa Merico, Andreas Aresti, and Sacha Darke is written in a more traditionally academic style. For me, this chapter is one of the best throughout the entire book. The power of storytelling is apparent here; the accounts are well written and thought provoking, as well as being well evidenced and grounded in academic literature and empirical research. The accounts also resonate personally, as they speak to my own experiences of being a mum while in prison. I enjoyed the arguments put forward about CC and absent voices. The acknowledgement that there are missing voices in the movement, but CC is a good format to support and develop those voices for the future is important.

In chapter four DOING TIME FOR CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY, Rod Earle introduces an important and relevant discussion about what convict criminology can learn from and how it can contribute to the “experts by experience” agenda through exploring the potential for auto-ethnographic work in convict criminology and criminology more broadly. However, Earle seems to be saying that for an “ex-con” in CC, being in prison is a distinguishing factor. In my opinion, I don’t think this is necessarily the case. In fact, for women, very few have been to prison, but many more have received sanctions from the criminal justice systems. I suggest that this makes them experts in their own experience of the system, and they, therefore, have something valuable to contribute to the CC endeavor. I very much like the analogy that Earle makes about CIS men as both supportive child birth partners and empathetic and successful midwives. For me, this highlights the debate that centers much of CC. That somehow, voices from within are more truthful. This may, or may not be the case, however, these voices add context, depth, color, and texture to our current understanding of criminological processes.

As a convict criminologist and a woman, it has taken me a long time to agree with the statement that Earle makes, but now I finally get it. “Convict criminology involves an active refusal to segregate our professional insights as criminologists from our personal lives” (p. 38). This act of resistance shows how CC continues to push against academic sensibilities, continuing in the fine tradition of critical criminology. Also useful in Earle’s chapter is the discussion on the purpose of vignettes. This attempt to marry personal reflections with criminological imagination pushes the narrative beyond pure biography and into academic territory.

In chapter six, IN THE POOL WITHOUT A LIFE JACKET - STATUS FRAGILITY AND CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY IN THE CURRENT CRIMINOLOGICAL ERA, Grant Tietjen and Daniel Kavish explore the development of a new concept called “status fragility”. For me, this is helpful in order to understand the consequences of being someone with a criminal conviction trying to forge a career in academia. Tietjen and Kavish assert, “Status Fragility is a social-structural impediment that marginalizes the careers of academics with past felony convictions” (p. 66). Luckily (to date), this has not been my own experience in the academy, but I have spoken to many more senior academics who have convictions who feel this has been a real barrier to them progressing in academia. I feel this is a really useful concept that can be used to explore many different aspects of social and structural barriers for those with criminal convictions. For example, it could be applied in other types of regulated work, such as social work and health care where the battle to gain positions and the structures that are put in place may impede one's sense of security once in position.

In chapter seven, Alison Cox examines A CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY APPROACH TO PRISONERS’ FAMILIES. In this chapter, she clearly demonstrates the connection between the activist roots of convict criminology and its push for systemic changes and support. She suggests that the CC movement needs to move beyond labels. She goes on to assert that for families of prisoners (who may fall into the non-con aspect of CC), being branded as guilty by association makes them feel more akin to convicts. As a movement, we need to get better at understanding and appreciating all of the harms that everyone who comes into contact with the criminal justice system experience.

For me, what Cox is articulating is at the heart of the CC movement. It all comes back to the lived experience. CC needs to take the time to understand the experiences of prisoners' families and this, combined with a mentoring and activist role, means that the CC model lends itself well to understanding the experiences of other marginalized groups. Given what we know about the role of how a prisoner's scaffolding plays in their lives and how their ongoing relationships with family and friends support prisoners while on the inside and upon release, I wholeheartedly agree with Cox. It is vital that more work is done through the lens of CC to understand the importance of prisoners' families experiences.

Overall, the book does a very good job of examining the global nature of convict criminology by pulling on its roots in critical criminology and exploring how the development of convict criminology has occurred in the U.S., the U.K., and across Europe. One of the original stated aims of CC was to expand conversations about the work beyond its origins in North America, and there has been some success in this. This book is testament to the off-shoots that have started to develop. However much work still needs to be done,especially in South America. In chapter nine, Valeria Vegh Weis makes the case that it is a much needed development in Latin America. Vegh Weis critically examines the challenges and solutions to developing CC in the Global South, and suggests that gatekeeping with a PhD is one of the most obvious barriers to the CC movement in Latin America, given that most prisoners only have a primary school level of education. The free public university system in much of Latin America means that the majority of lecturers do not receive any salary at all, and therefore, the fate of the CC movement is complicatedly tied up in discussions about privilege and structure. Ironically, it feels like the penal reform and activism that CC advocates for is needed even more in the Global South - to help reform prison conditions, but also wider societal conditions, such as workers pay and rights.

To conclude, perhaps the most important contribution of this book is the opening up of a conversation about the potential for the development of a convict criminology perspective. The opportunity to use the critical lens of CC and adapt it in different ways to suit the individual needs of the person, country, and/or organization is much needed. In doing so, we need to consider how we gate-keep access into the CC movement. We are only hurting ourselves by restricting admission to those with experience of the prison system. We need to encourage all of those who self-identify as CC’s and welcome them into the discussion. By not including the voices of people who have served community sentences, or have masters degrees (and beyond), we are missing out on many contributions that could strengthen and secure the future of the cause.


Charlton, J. (1998). NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US: DISABILITY, OPPRESSION, AND EMPOWERMENT. Berkeley: University of California Press. Available from:

Ortiz, J.M., Cox, A., Kavish, D.R. and Tietjen, G., (2022). Let the Convicts Speak: A Critical Conversation of the Ongoing Language Debate in Convict Criminology. CRIMINAL JUSTICES STUDIES, pp.1-19.

© Copyright 2023 by author, Danica Darley.