Professor Danielle Harris Receives Guggenheim Grant for Research on Sexual Offending

by Danielle Harris

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation has approved a grant in the amount of $36,000 to Justice Studies Assistant Professor Danielle Harris for her project entitled “Desistance  from sexual offending across the life course: A multimethod approach.” The study will explore the process of desistance from sexual offending in a sample of 100 men convicted of sexual offenses, referred for civil commitment and released from custody through a gradual release program. The specific program in question operated in Massachusetts from 1974 through 1991 and provided civilly committed sex offenders with an opportunity to gradually adapt to living in the community with authorized absences and periods of supervised community access. She and her colleagues plan to follow up approximately equal numbers of recidivists and desisters. Recidivists will have been released and subsequently reconvicted for a sexual crime (and will be interviewed in custody). Desisters will have been released and not subsequently reconvicted (and will be interviewed in the community).

The post-release experiences of risk and protective factors will be examined, paying particular attention to the variables previously identified in three established theories of desistance: natural desistance; cognitive transformation; and informal social control. Consistent with a pilot study that Professor Harris conducted using a CASA Incentive Grant last year, she will conduct qualitative narrative analysis to explore the presence of themes of desistance that have previously been identified in nonsexual offenders as well as emergent themes unique to this particular sample. She hopes to build on previous results that have underscored the relevance of natural desistance for a small group and the importance of cognitive transformation within the context of treatment for a majority of participants. Additional emergent themes so far include the negative impact of recent policies on participants’ ability to find accommodation, employment, and relationships.

She has previously coded the clinical and criminal files of all participants and is in the process of locating them in the greater Boston area. She will return to Boston during the summer to conduct interviews and administer the MIDSA (Multidimensional Inventory of Development, Sex, and Aggression) to each participant.

In addition to her research, Professor Harris is actively involved in the SJSU Record Clearance Project, where she engages students in assisting eligible people to clear their criminal records. She also teaches a number of key course in Justice Studies.

Professor Harris received her doctorate in Criminology in 2008 from Griffith University, Australia. Prior to that, she completed a Masters degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland (College Park) and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Justice Studies (with Honors) at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane and the University of Westminster, London. Her research interests include many aspects of sexual offending: specialization and versatility; the criminal career paradigm; desistance; female sexual offending; and related public policy. Dr Harris is the Director of Research for the Art of Yoga Project, a nonprofit organization that provides a yoga and creative arts curriculum to girls in custody.

Professor Harris’ work on sexual offending is a powerful example of the important research being conducted in the Justice Studies Department at SJSU; research that not only moves forward theory and practice, but that also has real relevance to marginalized communities and that helps in our collective efforts to achieve social justice through scholarship.

Information about Guggenheim Research Grants can be found here.

Information about the Massachusetts Sex Offender Program can be found here.

Information about the Art of Yoga Project can be found here.

More information about Dr. Harris and this prestigious research award can be found here.

Selected Publications

Harris, D. A., Knight, R. A., Dennison, & S., Smallbone, S. (2011). Post release specialization and versatility in sexual offenders referred for civil commitment. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23(2), 243-259.

Harris, D. A., & Fitton, M. L. (2010). The art of yoga project: a yoga and creative arts curriculum for girls in custody. International Journal of Yoga Therapy.