Public criminology, a concept closely tied with “public sociology”, draws on a long line of intellectuals engaging in public interventions related to crime and justice. It argues that the energies of criminologists should be directed towards "conducting and disseminating research on crime, law, and deviance in dialogue with affected communities." Its proponents see it as potentially narrowing "the yawning gap between public perceptions and the best available scientific evidence on issues of public concern," a problem they see as especially pertinent to matters of crime and punishment.
The general response to public criminology has been positive, however several authors have voiced a number of concerns: one set of concerns focuses on the ability of public criminologists to effectively impact policy decisions; another set of concerns suggests that initial forays into public criminology have been blind to the political-economic structures that shape Criminal Justice Systems; a third concern centers on the barriers that remain for participating in public criminology. Despite these challenges, many contemporary scholars remain committed to public criminology, utilizing new forms of media and working with a variety of institutions in order to advance recognition of criminological knowledge.
The first use of the term “public criminology” can be traced to a publication by Eamonn Carrabine, Maggy Lee, and Nigel South, however, more recent criminologists, building on Michael Burawoy's notion of public sociology, have developed the concept. For example, Uggen and Inderbitzin have expanded the scope of the term by suggesting it should place greater emphasis on work that informs public understandings about issues such as crime, punishment, criminal law, and criminal justice. Their work was in part motivated by the belief that there is a problematically wide gap between criminological research and public opinion and in part by a belief that the approach can inspire a future generation of criminologists to address the problem. In this sense, Uggen and Inderbitizin believe that public criminology can open a dialogue between academic criminologists and the public in a way that can reshape public debates and policy while bringing new perspectives on crime to the table.
While the term "public criminology" itself is relatively recent, many scholars acting under that moniker trace their efforts to a longer line of intellectuals engaging in public interventions related to crime and justice. For example Uggen and Inderbitzin find inspiration in the work of Clifford R. Shaw, who studied the relationship between neighborhoods and crime in Chicago starting the 1920's. His research formulated what is now known as Social Disorganization theory, which links crime rates in a neighborhood to other ecological characteristics. In the course of his research he involved residents of the communities in order to both learn from them and communicate his own research findings to them. As a result of this dialogue, Shaw founded the Chicago Area Project which was geared to reduce conditions that resulted in high delinquency.
Uggen and Inderbitzin find similar inspiration in the work of Elliot Currie, a professor of criminology at the University of California at Irvine who works on policy and specializes in cases of violent crime, the social context of delinquency, etiology of drug abuse and the assessment of drug policy, race and criminal justice, and George Kirkham, a police officer-turned- criminologist who wrote a book entitled "Signal Zero."
The response to calls for public criminology has generally been positive, however, several authors have expressed a number of concerns. One set of concerns focused on the ability of public criminologists to effectively impact policy decisions. For example, Michael Tonry has pointed out there exists a broad indifference on the part of policy makers to criminological insights, while Daniel Mears illustrates a similar indifference on the part of academic criminology for policy-making issues. Likewise, British Criminologist Paul Rock has voiced concerns regarding criminologist's lack of experience in policy-making, as well as questioning the integrity of public criminology if it is to be subject to the political spectrum. He argues that "...criminology itself often plays so small a role in what is done. It might be far less important that criminologists endorse a measure than that, at the outset, the judiciary, or heads of other government departments, or chiefs of police, and then later, politicians on both sides of the Houses of Parliament do so.”  Finally, many public criminologists have taken issue with how little criminologists engage in news reporting. For example, Daniel Crépault acknowledges that while criminological news and research is frequently reported, it is often being picked through to serve a partisan agenda and then reported by non-criminologists. In a similar way, anthropologist Sindre Bangstad recognizes social media as an easy way to perform public scholarship, but worries that the soul of academic disciplines who engage will be lost in the vast sea of information.
Another set of concerns suggests that initial forays into public criminology have been blind to the political-economic agenda that shapes the Criminal Justice system. For example, French Sociologist Loïc Wacquant believes that the "public" label of public criminology is nothing more than an American sideshow, hindering debates on crime and justice, confusing professional politics with normal citizen life, and normalizing "law and order" politics on both the Left and Right. Similarly, criminologist Emma Bell takes issue not with public criminology itself, but with the system under which it operates. Believing that in order for public criminology to be effective it must shed light on the problematic criminal justice system itself, she argues that a truly transformative public criminology that offers an ‘exit strategy’ must "move beyond neoliberalism and to move beyond the punitive penal policies."
A third concern centers on the barriers that remain for participating in public criminology. For example, Christopher Uggen and Michelle Inderbitzin highlight the structural disincentives towards practicing public criminology, starting in initial graduate training. Similarly, Kenneth Land stresses his concern that there are few employment opportunities for public criminology, causing economic barriers for those who might chose to pursue it. Likewise when criminologists Carrie Sanders and Lauren Eisler opened up a college course on criminology to the public, the attendees found the subject matter hard to be engaging. Such problems have led some authors to suggest that the core effort of public criminology should be towards creating inclusive, democratic spaces in which such conversations might take place.
Beyond the clarion calls to public criminology outlined above, there have been several forays into its actual praxis, with many groups and organizations dedicated to connecting public debates about the criminal justice system to contemporary research in criminology. For example, The Marshall Project was founded in 2014 by Neil Barsky and Bill Keller as a way to "create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system." Another example is the "Public Criminology" blog on public criminology created by Michelle Inderbitzin, Chris Uggen, and Sara Wakefield, which intends to inform the public on crime, law, and justice in the contemporary United States. Finally, The Center for Public Criminology, which is a segment at the Arizona State University School of Criminology, is dedicated to breaking the veil between the public and those professionals in the criminal justice field. They do this by educating both the public and professionals, while also addressing the stigmas and concerns that each group may have.
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