My research examines the exercise of coercive power by legal and quasi-legal authorities. The work engages the fields of sociology, law & society, and criminology. The primary line of research on this theme examines governmental use of private prisons: prisons operated by private firms, often for profit. Private prisons serve as an interesting site for analyzing state power; they paradoxically represent a delegation of coercive power to the private sector, while enabling increasing rates of state-mandated punishment. My research analyzes the political and cultural forces that have facilitated privatization, as well as the performance of private prisons.
A second project examines the coercive power exercised in policing mental illness. This project emerged from a collaboration with local law enforcement officials in Benton County, Oregon, and focuses on contacts between police and persons with mental illness. This research incorporated a number of student interns and has yielded both applied and academic outputs.
A third project investigates the phenomenon of police militarization--the use of military equipment by local law enforcement--which raises questions about police legitimacy and their relation to citizens. A first paper from this project analyzes patterns and correlates of local law enforcement agencies' adoption of mine-resistant armor protected vehicles for civilian use.