The Mercyhurst Criminal Justice Department had the opportunity to attend the 56th Annual Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26-30.
Students Alexa Collins, Taylor Tharp, Brittany Warren, Allison Fratus, Alexis Jones and Gabrielle Kendall were accompanied by Maria Garase, Ph.D., Criminal Justice department chair and assistant professors Emmaleigh Kirchner, Ph.D., and Adam Saeler, Ph.D.
Kirchner, Tharp and Kendall presented a research project on public opinion of the death penalty.
“Our findings showed that an overwhelming amount of people believe the death penalty is applied unfairly, yet still the majority support it,” Kirchner said. “We also found that people cite the same reasons for both support and opposition, which basically means people are not educated.”
Fratus also presented original research on the use of visitation programs in prison possibly reducing prison violence. She completed an IRB proposal earlier this year and is currently awaiting data from the Department of Corrections to lead to definitive results.
All of the students that attended the conference both learned and shared valuable lessons with their peers during the course of the weekend.
“The students did a great job representing Mercyhurst and the criminal justice department. As their professor, I was highly impressed with how they presented their research and discussed current topics, theory and policy with criminologists and criminal justice practitioners,” Kirchner said.
The conference included panels, workshops and speakers on various topics as well as time for students to network with other criminologists. This year’s theme being “Justice, Human Rights and Activism,” many of the panels were focused on pressing contemporary issues such as race relations, capital punishment and immigration.
“I enjoyed being able to attend a variety of presentations and panels where I could learn from multiple perspectives on topics ranging from Supreme Court cases to the death penalty,” Collins said. “The ACJS conference is a very valuable experience because it allows students to collaborate and enhance their way of thinking by interacting with those who are just as passionate about criminal justice.”
Warren found great value in being there with the group to network, attend talks and learn about the Criminal Justice field. She attended a panel with professors and students called the Caribbean Crime and Justice Study Group to discuss issues pertaining to people of Caribbean descent in the United States. Warren was offered a social media position for the organization and discussed future books the group wants to write with the other students and professors.
Faculty and students were able to learn and discuss a lot from the workshops and panels.
“The faculty workshop provided some great perspective, information and general good ideas for faculty to implement, think about and tweak to their liking,” Saeler said.
Alex Piquero, Ph.D., renowned professor of Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, also spoke at the conference. He discussed his research on the impact of public criminology. He emphasized the need for research to be accessible to everyday Americans and therefore be brought together with policy to make change based on facts.
Not only did the students engage academically while in Baltimore, they took advantage of the time to sightsee and engage culturally with the surrounding area. The group also visited Washington, D.C., for a day, visiting the Holocaust Museum, the national monuments and the Cherry Blossom Festival on Capitol Hill.
Overall, the students took a lot away from the conference and plan to use the skills they learned and the experiences they had to make a difference in their future careers as criminologists.
“It was refreshing,” Warren said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re just learning criminology but nothing can really be done. Then you go to one of these conferences and see how others are working on projects and realize that you can be a part of the solution.”
The next national conference that the department plans to attend will be in San Francisco in November.