Can’t Catch a Break

Suffolk sociology professors Maureen Norton-Hawk, co-director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research, and Susan Starr Sered, senior researcher at the Center for Women's Health and Human Rights, have collaborated on several research papers and projects studying the needs and lives of incarcerated women. In 2014, the pair drew from five years of fieldwork in Boston to co-author Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility, an award-winning book, which documents the day-to-day lives of 40 women as they struggle to survive sexual abuse, violent communities, ineffective social and therapeutic programs, discriminatory local and federal policies, criminalization, incarceration, and a broad cultural consensus that views suffering as a consequence of personal flaws and bad choices. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “compelling and important book [that] deserves to be widely read.” The book won the 2016 Distinguished Book Award from the Western Social Science Association.

Justice League, Unite

Reducing gang and youth violence requires a collaborative, comprehensive approach. And with the help of a $286,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Suffolk University professors Erika Gebo and Brenda Bond are currently studying how cities can best work together to reduce youth and gang violence using the Comprehensive Gang Model approach in four Massachusetts cities. Over three years, Worcester and Fall River will adopt intervention efforts compatible with the Comprehensive Gang Model, while Lowell and New Bedford will act as comparison sites.

Theirs is a true cross-discipline collaboration: Gebo is a professor of sociology and director of the graduate program in Crime & Justice Studies, while Bond is chair of the Institute for Public Service and associate professor of public administration at Sawyer Business School.

The pair co-edited the 2012 book Looking Beyond Suppression: Community Responses to Gang Violence, in addition to many other publications. Gebo has also been researching how a public health framework can be applied to gang violence, and recently published her findings in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports.

“My research has clearly shown that, compared with other youth, those most involved in violence and gangs are those with more risk factors, such as high levels of victimization,
exposure trauma and lack of access to institutions that build upon their assets,” Gebo says. At the same time, she says, these youth have fewer protective factors working in their favor, such as positive adult role models and peers or healthy community spaces. “A public health approach is the best way to address these realities, with the end goal of promoting positive youth development and reducing youth and gang violence.”

Exposing ‘Discrimination with a Smile’

Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals responding to apartment ads in Greater Boston were more likely to be quoted a higher rental price, were shown fewer apartment amenities such as storage or laundry, and were less apt to be offered a financial incentive to rent, according to a study conducted by Suffolk Law’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program.

The study, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be published in the forthcoming Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. It’s one of the largest studies to document specific evidence of such discrimination, an effort which could help supporters of so-called “bathroom bills” and other antidiscrimination laws that include gender identity.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming people deserve the full protection of our civil rights laws so they can live free from discrimination and can reach their potential as their true selves,” said William Berman, one of the study’s co-authors. Berman is clinical professor of law and director of Suffolk Law’s Housing Discrimination Program.

“This kind of discrimination is devastating, and it’s happening,” Berman told the Boston Globe. “It affects every single aspect of your life,” he said, “to be turned away from a place to live just because of who you are.”

Download: Transcending Prejudice: Gender Identity and Expression-Based Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Housing Market (Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2017)