Criminology & Deviance

The sociology of crime and deviance is the study of the making, breaking, and enforcing of criminal laws and social norms. Its aim is to understand empirically and to develop and test theories explaining criminal and deviant behavior, the formation and enforcement of laws, and the operation of criminal processing systems.

The Program in Criminology & Deviance at CU Boulder examines questions fundamental to any criminological study: What causes crime? Why do some people violate norms? What can or should be done about such acts for both the offenders and the victims? Why do we have the laws that we do and how are they enforced? What empirical research exists on these issues?

A Critical Edge

CU’s Program in Criminology & Deviance further develops these standard questions with both theoretical and empirical attention to issues of social justice. The Program’s particular strength lies in its diverse array of theoretical and methodological approaches to the sociology of crime, deviance, and justice. Its faculty combines both sophisticated quantitative and innovative qualitative research methodologies to advance analyses of law, criminal and social justice, and deviance.

State Responses to Crime & Violence

Areas of specialty include research on the implementation of the death penalty; police abuse of force; international human rights violations; state constructions of, and responses to, juvenile crime; and the complex relationships between law and violence.

Developmental Criminology

A hallmark of CU’s Program is its emphasis on developmental and life course issues in the study of crime and deviance. The program is home to some of the most influential longitudinal studies of criminal behavior, including the Rochester Youth Development Study, the Denver Youth Survey, and the National Youth Survey. All of these studies trace the causes and consequences of offending across the life course.

Identity, Inequalities & Law

Research conducted by faculty in the Criminology & Deviance Program is especially attentive to the ways in which legal and criminal processing systems construct, maintain, and reflect structures of societal inequality. Emphases within the department include racial disparities in sentencing outcomes; feminist and critical race jurisprudence; law and society; bias crime; and gendered criminality and laws.

Research Opportunities

Opportunities for graduate students to be involved in major research projects abound, both in the department and in the affiliated Research Program on Problem Behavior & Positive Youth Development that is part of CU’s Institute of Behavioral Science. All of the longitudinal studies mentioned above are part of the Problem Behavior Program, as are projects on domestic violence and the award-winning Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. These diverse projects offer many opportunities for research experience on both basic and applied topics.

Graduate Seminars

  • Topics in Criminology
  • Criminological Theory
  • Patterns of Criminal Behavior
  • Punishment and Social Control
  • Capital Punishment in the United States
  • Gender, Race, Class, and Crime

Faculty Profiles:

Adler, Patricia A. (Ph.D., California-San Diego, 1984) Adler specializes in interpretive sociology, qualitative research methods, deviant behavior, drugs, sociology of children, and sociology of sport

Belknap, Joanne E. (Ph.D., Michigan State, 1986) Belknap's research offers a feminist perspective on gender and crime, including the intersection of sexism with racism and classism. Her most recent projects are on delinquent girls and how the system responds to woman battering.

Goodrum, Sarah (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, 2001) Goodrum's research interests include criminology, sociology of law, and victimization.  Her most recent project examines victims' experiences with the criminal justice system with a focus on a specific group of victims, people who have lost a loved one to homicide.

Potter, Hillary. (Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2004) Potter's research interests include examining the intersection of race, gender, class, and crime; intimate partner violence; and correctional sanctions and programs for convicted offenders.

Radelet, Michael L. (Ph.D., Purdue, 1977).  Radelet’s research focuses on mainly on capital punishment, both in the U.S. and around the world, including such issues as deterrence, race, erroneous convictions, and public opinion.

Steen, Sara (Ph.D., University of Washington, 1998). Steen's research focuses on discretionary decision-making in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and on organizational responses to sentencing reforms.

Wadsworth, Tim (Ph.D., University of Washington, 2001).  Professor Wadsworth’s research uses quantitative methods to examine the influence of structural and cultural forces in shaping patterns of violence and crime in the United States. His recent publications have examined how urban characteristics can help us understand rates of interracial homicide, the suicide rates of different racial and ethnic groups, and how the growth in immigration can help us explain recent drops in crime.”