Law and order south of the border

July 12, 2016


Psychology alumna-turned-prof looks at how crime and punishment affect people and communities

JillIan TuranovIc (Bachelor of Arts, ’09) may not have known it at the time, but seven years ago when she took her first steps inside the Edmonton Institution for Women, the then psychology student was unlocking a career path that would take her to the United States as a student, a researcher and now a professor.

That tour of the women’s prison in Edmonton was part of a MacEwan University sociology course on gender, crime and justice taught by Joanne Minaker. “It opened my eyes to the many injustices faced by prisoners and victims of crime, especially for females and racial and ethnic minorities,” says Jillian. “My interest in imprisonment and the different consequences victims experience after a crime is committed was certainly shaped inside that class.”

Once she realized that she was interested in studying mass incarceration, imprisonment and violent crime, she knew she would need to head south to do her master’s degree. That eventually led her to Arizona State University.

“ The goal of this work isn’t just to understand victimization and its impact, but also to develop programs and services that can really help people.” Jillian Turanovic (BA '09) 

“At the time, there were less than 500 women in Canada serving federal sentences of two or more years in prison,” says Jillian. “I remember going to the women’s prison right outside of Phoenix for the first time to collect data for a study on children of incarcerated parents and there were over 3,000 women just in that one institution.”

As a professor at Florida State University, Jillian is continuing the research she began in Arizona—examining how incarceration affects families and communities.

“Florida faces many of the same issues as Arizona—overcrowded prisons and increased punitiveness. It’s rewarding to be able to do research and teach in a context where there is a lot of room for change and improvement.”

Creating that change, says Jillian, often means finding the middle ground. 

“The debate about whether incarceration is always negative or always positive is one that’s ongoing,” she says. “Policy makers argue that being more punitive is a good thing because it gets criminals off the street and keeps them in prison longer, while criminologists and researchers say that incarceration is universally harmful for families and children. There really was no middle ground, but my research shows that it can be both.”

The idea that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all also applies in Jillian’s second branch of research—victimization.

“For some people, being the victim of a crime is an extremely traumatic and singular event that leads to many further hardships. Other people, perhaps those who have better systems of support and resources, are able to cope with victimization in a way that is more resilient,” explains Jillian. “My current research looks at how people are affected by victimization at different stages in their lives—as adolescents, young adults and people in their late 30s or early 40s— and what helps them better cope.”

It’s research Jillian began during her PhD studies with support from a prestigious graduate research fellowship with the National Institute of Justice.

“The goal of this work isn’t just to understand victimization and its impact, but also to develop programs and services that can really help people. As academics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the people we’re studying are real, and that they have complex lives.”

So while seeing her research published in journals like Criminology, the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Justice Quarterly and the Journal of Pediatrics is satisfying, knowing that her work has real-world implications is what gives Jillian the most satisfaction.

“It’s an interesting time, especially in the U.S. There are more discussions about issues like reforming punishment and releasing low-level drug offenders from prison. For me, it’s rewarding to see my research making its way to practitioners—the people out in the field who are dealing with victims of crime or children of incarcerated parents, and who can make a real difference in the lives of these people.”

Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox. Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.

Read more about our alumni:

Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter