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Saint Mary’s introduces criminology concentration

| Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Criminals are all too often depicted as thugs and thieves in popular culture. In reality, they come in all shapes and sizes. Saint Mary’s new criminology concentration in sociology aims to show the varied nature of criminals, victims of crime and the factors that lead to illegal activity.

There are currently several courses available that fall under criminology within the sociology major. They are taught by professor Kelly Faust, who helped to start the program.

“We hope to speak to students interested in entering criminology and help them understand criminal behavior while squashing the many myths surrounding the field,” Faust said.

These myths involve the various controversies of the justice system. In many cases, competing ideologies can overwhelm courts. Society is often faced with the question of how due process can impact crime control and the arguments between protecting human rights versus getting criminals off the streets, Faust said.

Faust said popular conceptions of criminals can also play a huge role in policy decision.

“Crime shows, true crime podcasts and movies all play a huge role in popular conceptions of crime,” Faust said. “Fear of certain crimes can even lead to new government policy.”

This means the most violent criminals’ actions may determine what happens to all criminals. In order to prevent that kind of stereotyping, the criminology concentration aims to aid students in understanding the economic, social and cultural environments behind the choices criminals make, Faust said. In doing so, it humanizes individuals within the system, showing them as people, rather than dangerous convicts.

The concentration will also provide new information about the victims of crime and their circumstances, sociology department chair Mary Ann Kanieski said.

“While most people believe crime is rising, it is actually falling,” Kanieski said. “For example, most Amber Alerts tend to be miscommunications between either the child and their parents or the two parents. However, this is never reported to the public, which means the real problems may be overlooked.”

A few of the criminology courses will address these issues. It allows students who take the courses to look at the ties between society and the criminal justice system. The hope is students will not just learn about the laws, but about those affected by them.

“We’re trying to look at the factors that determine who is most likely to be arrested, and who is at the greatest risk of being a victim,” Kanieski said. “Most often it is tied to gender, race and ethnicity. We want to help students understand how these relationships impact society as a whole.”

Although criminology is currently only available at Saint Mary’s within the sociology major, it can be useful for a variety of different fields. Students going into pre-law, social work, government or law enforcement can benefit from taking criminology, Faust and Kanieski said. The courses are varied and cover everything from police policy to how race or conceptions of masculinity can influence the criminal mindset.

Both Faust and Kanieski said that there are more courses that the department hopes to add over time, and there is a possibility that criminology will eventually be expanded into a minor, but for now, it is available as a concentration within the sociology major.

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