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Alexes Harris

Professor of Sociology, University of Washington-Seattle Campus

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About Alexes

Alexes Harris, Ph.D., is the Presidential Term Professor and Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington. Her research fundamentally centers on issues of inequality, poverty and race in United States' criminal legal systems. Her book, A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as a Punishment for the Poor details the ways in which sentenced fines and fees often put an undue burden on disadvantaged populations and place them under even greater supervision of the criminal justice system. She was inducted into the WA State Academy of Sciences (2017), is currently the chair of the WA State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Comm on Civil Rights.

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In the News

"Fines and Fees Are a Pound of Flesh for Poor People," Alexes Harris, Opinion, The Seattle Times, February 25, 2021.
"Companies Can Keep Their Hollow Statements on Racism. We Need Real Change," Alexes Harris, Opinion, Newsweek, June 17, 2020.
Alexes Harris quoted on financial exploitation of the incarcerated by Izabela Zaluska, "Pay-To-Stay, Other Fees, Can Put Jail Inmates Hundreds or Thousands in Debt" Madison365, September 16, 2019.
Alexes Harris quoted on burden of jail fees on poor people by Izabela Zaluska, "Pay-To-Stay, Other Fees, Can Put Jail Inmates Hundreds or Thousands in Debt" Madison 365, September 16, 2019.
Alexes Harris quoted by Marjie High, "Innovative developments for LFOs introduced at Supreme Court Symposium" Washington State Wire, June 7, 2018.
"Justice Shouldn’t Come with a $250 Fine," Alexes Harris, New York Times, January 3, 2018.
Alexes Harris quoted by editorial board, "Criminal Justice not Served by Punishing the Poor" Seattle Times, October 13, 2015.
Alexes Harris quoted , "Costly Prison Fees are Putting Inmates Deep in Debt" CNN, September 18, 2015.
Interview on Baltimore Riots: Taking Protests Too Far? Alexes Harris, King 5 News, April 28, 2015.
Alexes Harris quoted by Raven Rakia, "It’s Not Just Ferguson: Cities Nationwide are Criminalizing Black People to Pay the Bill" The Nation, March 5, 2015.
Alexes Harris quoted , "Mistrust Lingers as Ferguson Takes New Tack on Fines" New York Times, September 12, 2014.

Publications

A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for Poor People (Russell Sage, 2016).

Argues that the imposition of legal financial obligations (LFOs), or fines and fees, creates a two-tiered system of punishment, one for those with financial means and one for those who are poor. Non-elected court bureaucrats enforce this system and assess debtors’ remorse for their crimes based on ideas of personal responsibility, meritocracy and accountability.  When the poor are unable to pay, they cannot be held fully accountable for their offending and experience a permanent punishment.  Illustrates how behind the shield of justice, court officials are empowered to apply discretion through paternalistic lenses that marginalize the poor.  

"Constructing Clean Dreams: Accounts, Future Selves, and Social and Structural Supporta as Desistance Work" Symbolic Interaction 34, no. 1 (2011): 63-85.

Investigates the discourse individuals use when talking about desisting from criminal offending. Analyzes the links between offenders’ accounts of past negative behavior, their construction of their possible “clean” future selves, and the social and structural conditions in which they were raised and continue to be embedded.  The analysis highlights how limited structural opportunities influence individuals’ lifestyles and behaviors, how individuals approach the desistance process even in the face of structural deprivation, and how they attempt to sustain this desistance process. 

"Constructing Clean Dreams: Accounts, Future Selves, and Social and Structural Support As Desistance Work" (with Heather Evans and Katherine Beckett). American Journal of Sociology 115, no. 6 (2011): 1755-99.

Investigates the discourse individuals use when talking about desisting from criminal offending. Analyzes the links between offenders’ accounts of past negative behavior, their construction of their possible “clean” future selves, and the social and structural conditions in which they were raised and continue to be embedded.  The analysis highlights how limited structural opportunities influence individuals’ lifestyles and behaviors, how individuals approach the desistance process even in the face of structural deprivation, and how they attempt to sustain this desistance process.

"Courtesy Stigma and Monetary Sanctions: Toward a Socio-Cultural Theory of Punishment" (with Heather Evans and Katherine Beckett). American Sociological Review 76, no. 2 (2011): 1-31.

Conducts an HLM analysis of Washington State court data and finds that non-legal factors increase the amount of legal financial obligation (LFO) that defendants receive.  Holding legal and non-legal factors constant Latinos, men, people convicted of drug offenses, and those requesting a jury trial (versus those who plead) receive higher fines and fees than non-Latinos, women, those convicted of non-drug offenses and those who pled to their charges.  

"Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary U.S." (with Heather Evans and Katherine Beckett). American Journal of Sociology 115, no. 6 (2010): 1755-99.

Examines the sentencing practice of monetary sanctions.  Analyzes national and state-level court data to assess the sentencing of fines and fees, and uses interview data to identify their social and legal consequences.  Findings indicate that monetary sanctions are imposed on a substantial majority of the millions of people convicted of crimes in the United States annually, and that legal debt is substantial relative to expected earnings.  Argues that indebtedness reproduces disadvantage by reducing family income, limiting access to opportunities and resources, and by increasing the likelihood of on-going criminal justice involvement.