USF Sarasota-Manatee Professor Jim Unnever’s recent book Building a Black Criminology: Race, Theory and Crime (2019, Routledge), co-edited by Shaun L. Gabbidon and Cecilia Chouhy, explores the role of racism in explaining crime among African Americans.
The book weaves together contributions from renowned criminologists nationwide while also uniting two noted criminologists from the USF System.
Along with contributions by Unnever, PhD, who wrote two chapters and served as the book’s main editor, is a chapter by Ojmarrh Mitchell, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa.
While organizing the book and exploring available research, Unnever said he sought experts to contribute “leading-edge chapters” about where the criminology field stands on race issues and whether the field is evolving. With that in mind, Mitchell became one of his first stops.
“I approached him more than a year ago,” Unnever said. “Dr. Mitchell has written extensively on race-related issues and I knew that he could make a substantial contribution. He’s a renowned scholar with in-depth coverage of race-related issues in top-tier journals.”
The pairing of the two academicians comes as USF and its regional campuses are consolidating under a single accreditation. Collaboration among faculty is frequently cited as a benefit to consolidation. In this case, the two scholars were well-acquainted with each other’s work, which helps explain why they collaborated on Building a Black Criminology.
“I had met Dr. Unnever several times in passing at various conferences and exchanged some emails with him over the years,” Mitchell said. “When he told me the focus of his edited volume, developing a black criminological perspective, I was eager to contribute. I was sure that this topic, combined with Dr. Unnever’s leadership in putting the volume together, would produce a winner, and I was right.”
USFSM Criminology Program Coordinator Murat Haner, PhD, said of the book, “This is a great illustration of the benefits of collaboration among faculty on the different USF campuses. I expect that the USF consolidation will provide additional opportunities for faculty to connect with our colleagues and to continue to produce high-impact research.”
The book took about a year to complete and includes chapters from a dozen leading criminologists nationwide. Although recently released, it’s already receiving noteworthy praise. At the American Society of Criminology’s conference in Atlanta in November, ASC President Dr. Karen Heimer referenced the book during her address.
In the book, Unnever challenges theories that all racial and ethnic groups commit crimes for the exact same reasons. Instead, he and the other scholars contend, racism contributes significantly in explaining crime among African Americans and goes on to argue that if black people never experienced any form of racism, their likelihood of committing a crime would be equal to that of whites.
Mitchell’s chapter, “The Paradox of a Black Incarceration Boom in an Era of Declining Black Crime: Causes and Consequences,” focuses on the paradox of higher incarceration rates for African Americans amid the declining crime rate of black people.
Mitchell notes that policy changes in the 1980s – including sentencing reforms that reduced the discretionary decision-making of judges and parole boards, the war on drugs and the “tough-on-crime” movement of the mid-1990s – paved the way for increased drug arrests, higher incarceration rates and longer sentences.
“Without these punitive changes, the noted paradox would not have been possible,” he said.
Unnever said he hopes the book helps criminologists better understand how racism permeates the criminal justice system and recognize that racism remains a major factor in creating crime.
On working with Mitchell, he added, “Our collaboration is an example of the synergy or cross-fertilization that the consolidation of the campuses can produce, further strengthening our stature as a world-class, preeminent research university.”