Sandra Bucerius Named Henry Marshall Tory Chair

Internationally recognized criminologist studies how people who are marginalized interact with our criminal justice system.

Sandra Bucerius

Criminologist Sandra Bucerius, whose groundbreaking research explores how marginalized people interact with Canada’s criminal justice system, has been named the U of A's newest Henry Marshall Tory Chair. (Photo: John Ulan)

Sandra Bucerius started her career in criminology hanging out with Muslim drug dealers as a grad student in Frankfurt, Germany.

Observing the daily lives of 55 of these second-generation immigrants for five years—learning about their lives on the street and in cafes and bars—she wanted to understand how their social and political exclusion determined their identity as they struggled to find a place in post-9/11 Germany.

That ethnographic study earned Bucerius a doctorate from the Goethe University Frankfurt and was eventually published with Oxford University Press as Unwanted: Muslim Immigrants, Dignity, and Drug Dealing in 2014.

Since then, she has done groundbreaking research on the criminal justice system and everyone it touches, co-editing the Oxford University Press Handbook series in criminology, and directing the University of Alberta Prison Project, the largest mixed-methods study on Canadian prisons in the history of Canadian criminology.

“I’m particularly interested in how interactions with the criminal justice system are shaped by various factors of exclusion and marginalization,” said Bucerius, the 2021 recipient of the Henry Marshall Tory Chair.

“That could be immigrant status—like the young men in my German book—or indigeneity, race, gender, social class, substance misuse and other factors that contribute to people’s exclusion in society.”

Named after the first president of the University of Alberta, the five-year renewable appointment acknowledges exceptional scholars “who by their presence will enhance the reputation of the university.”

“Sandra is recognized and respected in Alberta, across Canada and internationally for her critical, in-depth examination of immigration and crime as well as criminal justice institutions and the people who encounter them,” said Sara Dorow, chair of the Department of Sociology.

“Her career epitomizes the integration of research with both teaching and mentoring, and public policy and community practice, to the lasting benefit of students and the public.”

Last fall, Bucerius also became the first director of the U of A’s new Centre for Criminological Research in the sociology department, a think tank aimed at bringing together scholars and community partners to examine some of the most pressing issues facing the criminal justice system. It is the first centre of its kind in Western Canada.

Bucerius will use her Tory Chair to launch a longitudinal study following individuals after they are released from prison to see where their social supports fall short.

“I've always been struck by what happens to participants I’ve interviewed in prison once they return to their communities,” she said.

“The sad reality is that over 50 per cent of our participants—both men and women—see prison as a place of temporary refuge.

“It’s a reflection of how much the often-celebrated social welfare state of Canada fails,” when prison seems a better option than living on the outside, she said.

Social services “fail at some point for most of our participants,” whether housing, food, mental health and medical supports or treatment options. As a result, “they often, unfortunately, return to prison.”

Bucerius currently supervises nine doctoral students, many of whom are involved with her prison project. “That is a lot of supervising. So that’s why I say that, while I'm honoured to receive this award, it’s also a reflection of my larger team—my students and my collaborators.

“At the end of the day, I want to translate my findings and knowledge into best practices, and hopefully create positive system changes that benefit the most marginalized members of society.”