Across the country, grassroots efforts are underway to try to replace police departments with departments of public safety. Although the changes being considered differ across contexts, they have in common an interest in moving away from armed officers who focus on crime to civilian forces that take a holistic approach by focusing on the root causes that bring about concerning and harmful behaviors. In Minneapolis, considerable support seemed to exist for such a change, but a recent ballot initiative fell short of achieving this goal. Why did Minneapolis voters decide against replacing their police department with a new Department of Public Safety? And what does this defeat tell us about the hurdles that exist not only to potentially transformative police reform, but also to our understanding of what public safety is and how best it is achieved?   Michelle Phelps, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, joined us to share her unique insights about how dynamics rooted in race, class, and space converged to produce unexpected patterns of voting on this important and potentially game-changing issue.

Michelle PhelpsMichelle S. Phelps is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her research is in the sociology of punishment, focusing in particular on the punitive turn in the U.S. Her primary lines of ongoing research are on mass probation, criminal justice transformation, and policing.

This work has been published in interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journals, including Social Problems, Annual Review of Criminology , ANNALS, Law & Society Review, British Journal of Criminology, Punishment & Society, Theoretical Criminology, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and Law & Policy.

Together with Philip Goodman and Joshua Page, she is the author of Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle Over Criminal Justice (Oxford, 2017), which traces the history of U.S. criminal justice reforms from the birth of the penitentiary to contemporary struggles to end mass incarceration.

She received her B.A. in Psychology from U.C. Berkeley in 2005. During her time in college, and later while working in New York, she became involved with a number of criminal justice non-profit organizations, including the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Fortune Society, and the Center for Court Innovation.

She received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Policy from Princeton University. Her dissertation, entitled The Paradox of Probation: Understanding the Expansion of an “Alternative” to Incarceration during the Prison Boom, explored the expansion of probation as a criminal justice sanction.