Professor Heather Schoenfeld’s teaching and research areas include the sociology of law, crime and punishment, and public policy. Her award-winning scholarship focuses on the origins and development of mass incarceration in the United States. She is the author of Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press, 2018). The book won the 2019 American Association of State and Local History Award of Excellence. In the book, Schoenfeld illustrates how the unfinished task of full equality for African Americans led to a series of policy choices that expanded the government’s power to punish, even as they were designed to protect individuals from arbitrary state violence. Examining civil rights protests, prison condition lawsuits, sentencing reforms, the War on Drugs, and the rise of conservative Tea Party politics, Schoenfeld explains why politicians veered from skepticism of prisons to an embrace of incarceration.
Professor Schoenfeld is also the author of over a dozen articles and essays on historical and contemporary systems of criminal punishment in a wide variety of journals, including Law & Society Review, Punishment & Society, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. Her 2013 award-winning article with Michael Campbell in the American Journal of Sociology compares the politics of punishment across eight American states between 1960 and 2001. Current projects include research funded by National Science Foundation that examines states’ current efforts to reduce imprisonment. Her methodological expertise lies in historical, comparative, and case study methods. Dr. Schoenfeld holds a courtesy appointment in the Boston University School of Law and is a faculty affiliate of the Hariri Institute for Computing and the American and New England Studies Program. She teaches Introduction to Law & Society, Research Methods and the Sociology of Law.