TaLisa J. Carter, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology at American University, a non-resident fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute, an Affiliated Scholar at Urban Institute, and an Affiliate with the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! at George Mason University. Her research examines theoretical explanations of accountability in the criminal justice system, the role of identity in criminal justice professions, and the impact of colorism on criminal justice outcomes. Previously, she worked as a Deputy Corrections Officer in Savannah, GA where she supervised male and female residents with diverse classification statuses. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. Additionally, her work has been published in outlets including Race and Justice, Deviant Behavior, and Sociological Forum. ORCID: 0000-0002-1662-6089.
Future Correctional Practitioners See A Broken System
Criminal justice agencies across the country seek out diverse cohorts of well-educated employees to address recruitment, officer behavior, community relations, and retention issues.
How do these future practitioners of diverse backgrounds perceive the criminal justice system?
A recent study that I conducted with Jazmine Talley, a doctoral student at American University, showed that even those college students who aspire to work in criminal justice hold largely negative perceptions of the system, regardless of their own race, sex, or skin tone. Our study
examined the tension between the shortage of qualified criminal justice practitioners and their awareness of the system’s flaws. Analyzing data from my Shades of Justiceproject, we found that college students largely perceive the criminal justice system as:
Functional, meaning that the system serves its purpose of protecting and enforcing the law;
Flawed, meaning that the system fails to meet expectations while recognizing that potential for growth and improvement exists, and…
In the words of the students, “Fucked,” meaning that pervasive inequalities and injustices are entrenched in the American criminal justice system and attempts at reform are ineffective and futile.
While 80 percent of students described the system as “irreparably broken,” darker-skinned students less often described it as “functional” compared to their lighter-skinned counterparts. We believe that our research holds significant implications for policy, practice, and research.
It encourages researchers and practitioners to consider race and skin tone as two distinct concepts that require different approaches and considerations. Criminal justice institutions interested in hiring college graduates may be more successful if they acknowledge the system’s problems in their recruitment and retention strategies.