PhD in Criminology, Law and Society

Amy Dezember, 2021

Amy Dezember

Tell us about your thesis/dissertation project. Who did you work with and what did you study? 

​My dissertation is titled "Alford pleas and the Presumption of Strong Evidence" and I worked with Dr. Allison Redlich, my dissertation chair, to develop the research idea and methodology and conduct the data collection, analysis, and writing. This study examined plea bargaining practices and the use of Alford pleas, a specific type of guilty plea in which the defendant maintains their innocence while acknowledging that the evidence could result in a guilty finding at trial. Using Virginia administrative court records, this study found that Alford pleas take longer to dispose of and generally receive harsher, less favorable sentences compared to traditional guilty pleas. Additionally, interviews with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys indicated that the strength of evidence is not a driving factor or consideration in the decision to enter an Alford plea (despite this being a central factor in the Supreme Court decision), and that judges seem to sentence these pleas more harshly due to the defendant's apparent lack of remorse and responsibility associated with maintaining their innocence.

Why did you choose the PhD program at Mason? ​

I was really interested in the evidence-based policy and practice focus that Mason's Criminology program offers. I knew that coming to Mason would offer me strong research training while also helping me develop relationships with researchers and practitioners in the DC area as well as around the country. Mason's Criminology program's reputation was something that really excited me and the opportunity to work with such established and highly regarded faculty was something I couldn't pass up. 

What was the most rewarding experience for you during your time in the program?

The most rewarding experience as a PhD student was getting to be heavily involved in research with faculty. I was lucky to be involved in a multi-year research program that Dr. Redlich was directing. Working on this project gave me so much experience in a variety of data collection, research methodologies, and data analyses. Working closely with Dr. Redlich also allowed me to really develop my research skills and abilities, as well as working with masters and undergraduate research assistants. Direct research experiences like these are what really help develop the skills needed post-graduation, and I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity. 

What was your favorite course in the program and why?

My favorite courses were Crime and Crime Policy and Values, Ethics, and Criminal Justice Policy. Both courses, while very challenging, were classes that really helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills and find my voice as a scholar. These were courses where I learned to combined theory, prior research/literature, and current issues facing criminal justice to develop strong arguments for future research and policy reform, which was incredibly valuable for a young scholar. 

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students? ​

Take advantage of all the opportunities that are offered to you and build relationships with the faculty and your peers. It is easy to become busy and overwhelmed by the grad school experience, but it is such a unique experience to be able to work closely with such experience and established faculty and experts in the field. Additionally, I found it so valuable to work with peers to develop studies and paper ideas beyond the classroom and research projects with faculty, and since graduating these have become some of my closest friends and colleagues as we go out into the working world. Try to say yes to as many experiences you can, and diversity what you experience (including the faculty you work with and the types of things you work on) while you are in the program! 

What accomplishments during your time at Mason are you most proud of? 

​I am most proud of earning a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Completion Grant. This is the largest and most competitive grant that I ever applied for, and even just the process of applying was such a great learning experience. Developing strong grant applications is a skill I will need for my entire career, so being able to go through this experience with Dr. Redlich really helped me learn what can set an application apart. Additionally, winning the grant was so rewarding and such a great confidence boost to have a prestigious agency acknowledge the merits of my research and support my work. 

How did your academic experiences at Mason (or CLS) impact you?

My time in the CLS department was pivotal in helping me develop my own voice and vision as a scholar. Prior to starting my PhD, I had a fair amount of experience working on research projects in my prior job, but I had always been in a supporting or assisting role. However, it was my time in the CLS program that helped me developed my own ideas and skills to be able to design and lead research projects so that I can go on to conduct research that I think is meaningful and valuable to the field.

What are you doing now/what do you plan to do with your degree? 

​Since graduating, I am working for a small research company in DC on a federal contract conducting performance measure evaluation for Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance grantees, including law enforcement agencies, non-profit organizations, and other criminal justice agencies. In the long term, I plan to continue using my degree by partnering with practitioners to implement evidence-based practices and conducted research studies and evaluations to continue improving criminal justice policies.