Alexes Harris
Assistant Professor of Sociology

University of Washington


Office: 211 Savery Hall, Rm 276
Office Hours: By Appointment
Telephone: 206-685-4763

Alexes Harris is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington.  Her degrees in the field of Sociology are from the University of Washington (B.A., 1997) and the University of California, Los Angeles (M.A., 1999; Ph.D., 2002).  Her research and teaching areas include the juvenile and criminal justice systems, qualitative research methods, and social stratification and inequality.  She is currently researching the process and consequences of Legal Financial Obligations assessed to individuals convicted of felonies in Washington State and the process of "re-entry" post conviction.  Her research has been published in Law and Society Review, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Race and Social Problems and is forthcoming in the American Journal of Sociology.


Research Interests

My research interests pertain to issues related to social stratification and racial and ethnic disparities.  My work investigates how institutions - educational, judicial, and financial - assess, label, and process individuals and groups.  My previous research examines the ways in which key decision makers in the juvenile justice system have processed young people.  I have examined how juvenile court judges and probation officers implement changing laws governing the treatment of "serious" juvenile offenders, how they attempt to create assessments of youth eligible for transfer to the criminal justice system, and the effects of these processes on the court workgroup. My findings suggest that as the war on crime is extended to juveniles, the juvenile courts increasingly resemble the contemporary criminal courts with their emphasis on the offense rather than the offender, enhanced prosecutorial power, and more adversarial processes. 

More recently, my interests have turned to examine the lives of young offenders (aged 18-34) as they attempt to reenter their communities after contact with the criminal justice system, and as they try to avoid further contact with the justice system. Since 1974 there has been a sharp rise in United States incarceration rates, and these rates have become increasingly stratified by race and class.  In 2007, 1 our of every 31 U.S. adults were either on probation, parole, or incarcerated in a local jail or state prison. I have two lines of inquiry that examine the processes and consequences of this penal expansion.  The first investigates how marginalized individuals who have had contact (or are avoiding contact) with the criminal justice system manage their lives. This research includes an on-going project that examines how young adults who are enrolled in re-entry programs transition into adult responsibilities and conventional lifestyles.  The second line of inquiry investigates sentencing practices in the Washington State Superior Court.  Along with collaborators Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans, I am examining the assessment of legal financial obligations to persons convicted of felony offenses.  Both of these projects are related to sociological work on social stratification and inequality, law and society, and racial and ethnic theory. 

Future work involves pursuing the investigation of the imposition and effects of monetary sanctions.  To further develop our understanding of the sentencing process I plan to collect ethnographic data from sentencing hearings in a sample of counties in Washington State and to conduct interviews with judges to explore factors they consider when assessing the fines and fees. I am also interested in the consequences of non-payment of monetary sanctions; how judges assess individuals as either "willfully" not paying, or as "indigent" and unable to pay, how community corrections officers manage non-payment cases, and how police enforce or do not enforce warrants for no-payment.

Teaching Interests

Social stratification and inequality, the juvenile and criminal justice systems, race and ethnic relations, and ethnographic and interview methods.

Personal Interests

I graduated from Garfield High School in Seattle, WA and attended the University of Washington as an undergraduate majoring in sociology.   I am currently the president of the Garfield High School Foundation (a non-profit aimed at raising funds to support the Garfield community), and a member of the Racial Disparity Project.


Sociology 270, Social Problems

Why are certain social problems considered serious problems and others are not?  From youth crime, violence and abuse, homelessness and poverty, racial and gender inequality, to the AIDS epidemic, there are several social ills plaguing our society today.  Yet, at various times, and in different places, certain issues become labeled by different people as being serious social problems.  This course will explore how three major social problems in the United States and other countries have come to be identified as important problems.  The course is split into four main sections.  To begin, we will explore a sample of sociological perspectives used to investigate and explain social problems by sociologists.  We will then discuss three broad social problems in the U.S. and other societies; juvenile and criminal justice, poverty and inequality, and HIV/AIDS.  We will learn descriptive and statistical information about these issues, apply different sociological perspectives to the problems, and explore how sociologists have investigated these problems. 

Sociology 375, Juvenile Justice

This course will provide you with an overview of the United States juvenile justice system and an investigation of important related sociological issues.  The course begins with a discussion of the historical and philosophical roots of the juvenile justice system in the United States and the evolutionary process of practices and legislation that have influenced the management of juvenile offenders.  The goal of this course is to help you develop a more thorough understanding of the stages by which young people are processed, the treatment they receive and the decision-making duties and processes of juvenile court officials from a sociological perspective.   This course will also discuss important societal issues relating to the juvenile justice system including: racial and ethnic disproportionality, the criminalization of certain types of delinquent offenders and possible future frameworks that will guide the juvenile justice system.

Sociology 519/520, Field Research Methods

The focus of this course is on conducting field research.  The first quarter will center on developing students' skills in conducting participant observations at field sites of their choosing.  By the second week of the quarter students must be situated in their field sites conducting 10 hours of observations a week.  During this first quarter we will discuss how to gain access to a field site, field techniques, Institutional Review Board applications, issues related to ethics, and research formulation.  During the second quarter students will remain in their field sites with the focus turning towards interviewing informants.  The second quarter will primarily focus on developing qualitative analyses and writing final ethnographies.  The latter quarter will also devote attention to interviewing skills and techniques.  Both quarters must be taken by students in order to receive credit for the course.

This course is designed to be a labor intensive, hands-on research methods class providing students the opportunity to gain insight to conducting their own ethnographic research projects.  The course will allow students to begin exploring field sites and ideas for their dossiers and/or dissertations.  The goal of the course is to allow you to explore a substantive area of interest while at the same time gain important qualitative skills for data collection. At the end of the course you will have a solid research proposal and literature review for future projects. 


Harris, Alexes, Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans.  2010.  “Punishment, Morality and Money:  Theorizing Judicial Discretion in the Imposition of Monetary Sanctions.”  Revise and Resubmit at American Sociological Review

Harris, Alexes.  2010.  “Constructing Clean Dreams:  Accounts, Future Selves, and Social and Structural Support As Desistance Work.”  Conditional Acceptance at  Symbolic Interaction.

Harris, Alexes, Heather Evans, and Katherine Beckett. 2010.  "Drawing Blood from Stones: Monetary Sanctions and their Implications for the Study of Punishment, Poverty and Inequality."  Forthcoming  in American Journal of Sociology (expected May 2010)

Harris, Alexes.  2009. "Attributions and Institutional Processing: How Focal Concerns Guide Decision-Making in the Juvenile Court."  Race and Social Problems 1(4): 243-256.

Harris, Alexes.  2009.  "The Role of Power in Shaming Interactions:  How Social Control is Performed in a Juvenile Court."  Contemporary Justice Review Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice, Volume 12 (4):  379-399.

Harris, Alexes.  2008.  "The Social Construction of ‘Sophisticated' Adolescents:  How judges integrate juvenile and criminal justice decision-making models."  Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 37 (469-506).

Harris, Alexes.  2007.  "Diverting and Abdicating Judicial Discretion: Cultural, political and procedural dynamics in California juvenile justice."  Law & Society Review  41 (2): 387-428.

Clark, Reginald, Alexes Harris & Walter Allen.   Spring 2005.  "After-School Youth Programs:  How They Affect Black Male Development and Educational Progress."   Challenge, 11(2): 1-37. 

Harris, Alexes, and Walter Allen.  2003.  "Lest We Forget Thee…The Under- and Over-Representation of Black and Latino youth in California higher education and juvenile justice institutions."  Race & Society. 6:  99-123


West Coast Poverty Center, Faculty Affiliate,

Washington Institute for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Sexuality, Faculty Affiliate,

Racial Democracy Crime and Justice Network, Member

The Washington State Budget and Policy Center, Community Advisory Board Member

Garfield High School Foundation, President

The Racial Disparity Project, Member

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Last modified: 3/08/2010 2:45 PM