On July 1, 2020, Sandra Susan Smith became the fourth Daniel & Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) Faculty Director, a position last held by Bruce Western.

Sandra Susan SmithThe Program in Criminal Justice, now in its 40th year, has been somewhat dormant since Western’s departure three years ago. Still, its legacy is strong. Through its primary activities — action-oriented as well as traditional academic research; gatherings of an interdisciplinary group of faculty with broad interests in criminal justice issues; and, of course, the iconic Executive Sessions, where high-level practitioners, policymakers, and academics convene to engage in creative dialogue and problem-solving about seemingly intractable problems — PCJ has informed national debates, shaped public policy, and given birth to big ideas on a broad range of topics and issues, including policing and public safety, juvenile justice, youth violence and homicide, human rights, and community corrections.

Because of its reputation as an incubator and clearinghouse for innovative ideas, and despite its period of dormancy, PCJ is poised to contribute to policy debates on today’s pressing criminal justice issues and in a way that speaks to the possibilities of this truly transformational moment. Toward this end, Smith plans to reinvigorate the long-dormant Harvard Interfaculty Partnership on Crime and Justice (aka, “HIP on Crime”), engaging interested faculty across campus in regular meetings on issues of critical importance related to crime, punishment, and justice. Smith also plans to launch another Executive Session that focuses attention on perhaps the most urgent problem of the day — reimagining community safety. Future Sessions will address the issue of bail and pretrial detention and also mass criminalization. And, consistent with past efforts, Smith plans to convene a set of meetings that, like the Executive Session, will bring together practitioners, policymakers, and academics, but with a focus on reimagining and addressing pressing local issues. One PCJ Roundtable, as they will be called, is in development with a focus on the issue of public safety in Boston. PCJ Faculty Affiliate and Professor of Sociology, Christopher Winship, is co-leading the charge. Other Roundtables are in the offing. 

There is perhaps one way that Smith hopes to engage differently than typical PCJ activities of the past, and that is by centering the voices of marginalized communities — community leaders and activists on the front lines of change — in discussions about ideas and policies that will affect their lives. With the exception of the Harvard Interfaculty Partnership, PCJ activities will always proceed with this key set of stakeholders. 

Previously, Smith served as professor of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley. She is primarily a qualitative researcher with longstanding interests at the intersection of racial inequality, urban poverty and joblessness, and social capital and social networks. Her publications on this topic include Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007), the forthcoming The Cultural Logics of Job-Matching Assistance, and numerous articles and book chapters. 

Smith’s research interests have recently expanded, however, to include carceral issues, with special attention to the front-end of criminal case processing, a direct result of her membership in the Executive Session on Community Corrections (2013-2016). Her first major book project in this area, tentatively titled The Difference a Day Makes and generously funded by Arnold Ventures, is a qualitative study that attempts to explain why just a few days in pretrial detention can significantly increase the likelihood of future carceral involvement, especially among low-risk, low-level individuals. Smith will spend at least one of her two years as the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute writing a book manuscript that addresses this question.

Smith’s second year as a Radcliffe Professor will be devoted to a fourth book project, a qualitative study of justice-involved individuals’ knowledge and perceptions of ban-the-box policies, how such policies inform their beliefs about opportunity and mobility, and the impact that they have on individuals’ job search efforts. This effort, partially funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, highlights Smith’s interest in how carceral involvement shapes individuals’ labor force participation. The Criminal Justice System as a Labor Market Institution, co-edited with Jonathan Simon, is a recent contribution to this area of research. 

Smith, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history-sociology from Columbia University and received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago.