If one were to read any number of books or articles concerning things like incarceration or the death penalty they would come away swearing that criminology is full of omnipotent conservatives who brandish remarkable, ET-like, power. These dastardly conservatives apparently convinced most state legislatures and the federal government to increase the use of jail and prison beginning in the 1980’s and are thus guilty of causing the alleged problem of “mass incarceration.”
This is a widespread view in the field and one that is a bit antiseptic and a bit, well, lacking in complexity and fact.
So.......who were these criminologists?
James Q. Wilson is often pegged as a conservative criminologist. The single problem with this is that he was a public policy guy and likely had never taken a criminology class in his life.
Wilson was, nonetheless a highly influential scholar who spent a lot of time writing about and “thinking” about crime. He advocated for selective incapacitation and called into question the policy usefulness of addressing “root causes.”
Bam! Wilson was summarily demonized by the discipline and was treated so badly, so unprofessionally, that he refused to attend any of our meetings.
Even today, we see the same treatment of Wilson and other mean, evil, sundry conservative criminologists. No, wait. There are NO other conservative criminologists......at least none that dare utter their orientation in public.
Wilson has since passed but along the way amassed a wealth of awards and accolades for his work. Criminology, however, remains antagonistic towards him and towards those phantom conservatives.
Here is a recent post by professor Potter about Wilson and conservatives in general. Give it a read because it does a good job in expressing the hostility many criminologists have about anything on the right......or on the right of where they are. Conservative theory (didn’t know such a thing existed) is “depressing” Potter argues. These and other insights can be read here: