Jenness garners Western Society of Criminology award

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Valerie Jenness, left, accepts Meda Chesney-Lind Award from Western Society of Criminology member and UCI alumna Danielle Wallace of Arizona State University.

Valerie Jenness, professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine has been named the recipient of the Western Society of Criminology’s Meda Chesney-Lind Award for “significant contributions to scholarship or activism on the intersection of women and crime.”

“There is a deep recognition of Professor Jenness’ profound and important work on the experiences of trans women in prison, that is both pioneering from a research perspective and deeply human in its impact,” said Hadar Aviram, law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law and chair of WSC’s awards committee.

The award was bestowed earlier this month at the WSC’s annual conference in Honolulu. It comes on the heels of another honor — the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology’s Division of Terrorism and Bias Crime — Jenness recently received in Atlanta. That award honors her sustained and distinguished scholarship with Ryken Grattet, UC Davis professor of sociology, on hate crime.

“The recognition from the Western Society of Criminology and the American Society of Criminology is very humbling,” Jenness said. “There is so much incredibly impressive research being produced by my colleagues here at UCI and across the nation. It’s just an honor to be deemed worthy of recognition. It’s a humbling experience and an experience that reminds me how fortunate I am to get to do my work with wonderful collaborators and in the supportive environment provided by my home department — Criminology, Law and Society — and UCI more generally.”

The Meda Chesney-Lind Award recognizes a body of work done by Professor Jenness, including her work on transgender women in California’s prisons for men. For that research, she worked with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to identify all transgender inmates in all California prisons — by all accounts historic data collection. The task required Jenness to work collaboratively with, and independently from, the CDCR’s Director of Adult Institutions (to whom California prison wardens report) to collect extremely valuable original data. She and her research team developed an innovative interview schedule that was specifically designed to be sensitive to transgender prisoners and to capture a wealth of information on their lives inside and outside of prison.

With regard to life in prison, Jenness’ research breaks new ground by paying particular attention to the housing environments in which transgender women prisoners live, the social networks in which they are embedded, their personal relationships in prison, and their identities and conduct as transgender prisoners.

During the data collection phase, 332 transgender inmates housed in 27 prisons for adult males were invited to participate in the study and 316 transgender inmates agreed to do so and indicated their agreement by signing an informed consent form. As indicated in the nomination statement that led to Professor Jenness being given the Meda Chesney-Lind Award, her work on transgender women prisoners “deepens our understanding of the intersection between gender, law, and criminal justice.”

In addition, her work has captured the attention of those outside academe, from law enforcement officials to courts of law, as historical legal reform is proposed, debated, adopted (or rejected), and institutionalized.

Jenness, who served as dean of UCI’s School of Social Ecology from 2009 to 2015, has conducted research on prostitution, hate crime, prison violence and grievances, and other topics related to criminal justice and the politics of crime control. She is the author of four books: “Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic” (with Kitty Calavita); “Making Hate a Crime: From Social Movement to Law Enforcement Practice” (with Ryken Grattet); “Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence” (with Kendal Broad); and “Making it Work: The Prostitutes’ Rights Movement in Perspective.”

Her studies of hate crime, sexual assault in prisons, the management of prisoners with mental health concerns, transgender prisoners, and the inmate appeals system in prison have been published in prestigious venues, informed public policy, and evoked the attention of the press. She has served on the California Governor’s Rehabilitation Strike Team to assist with the implementation of legislation designed to provide rehabilitation services to tens of thousands of California prisoners (AB 900).

More recently, Jenness, who serves as an expert in civil litigation related to conditions of confinement in lock-up facilities, worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, the United States Courts for the 9th circuit, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to develop and implement innovative policy. She also serves as an expert in civil litigation related to conditions of confinement in lock-up facilities.

— by Mimi Ko Cruz