Harris

Alexes Harris

Affiliations
Professor of Sociology and Presidential Term Professor, University of Washington
Areas of Expertise:
  • Criminal Justice
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Public Budgets & Taxes

About Alexes

Harris conducts research and teaches in the areas of social stratification and inequality.  Her courses are on social problems (poverty and inequality, juvenile and criminal justice and HIV/AIDS) and race and ethnicity in the United States. She is interested in how contact with institutions (e.g., schools, juvenile or criminal justice system, economic markets) affect individual’s life course trajectories. She is particularly interested in how contact may be influenced by a person’s race or ethnicity or their class position. For the past nine years Harris has studied monetary sanctions, the fines and fees that people who make contact with all levels of U.S. systems of justice are charged upon citation or conviction. 

Harris has worked with the national and local affiliates of the ACLU, with Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, Washington, and with a group called Baseball Beyond Boarders that supports young student athletes in their preparation for college.  In 2015 she was appointed by the U.S. Attorney General to a four year term as a member of the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program’s Science Advisory Board.  In December of 2015, she presented at a White House convening on poverty and the criminal justice system, and was most recently invited to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about monetary sanctions in March 2016.  

Podcast

Publications

"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.

"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. 

"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. 

"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.  

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.  

In the News

Alexes Harris quoted in 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 , "Mistrust Lingers as Ferguson Takes New Tack on Fines" New York Times, September 12, 2014.
Alexes Harris quoted in Raven Rakia, "It’s Not Just Ferguson: Cities Nationwide are Criminalizing Black People to Pay the Bill" The Nation, March 5, 2015.
Interview on Baltimore Riots: Taking Protests Too Far?Alexes Harris, King 5 News, April 28, 2015.
Alexes Harris quoted , "Costly Prison Fees are Putting Inmates Deep in Debt" CNN, September 18, 2015.
Alexes Harris quoted in editorial board, "Criminal Justice not Served by Punishing the Poor" Seattle Times, October 13, 2015.