Criminalization Affected His Community, Now He’s Fighting Back

Victor St. John
Victor St. John

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1990s, Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate Victor St. John (Criminal Justice) saw firsthand how criminalization impacted black and brown people. So, he vowed to “change the system from the inside.”
He worked at juvenile detention centers and even Rikers Island jail complex for years after receiving his bachelor’s degree in criminology. Ultimately, he dedicated himself to research and recently published his new study, “Probation and Race in the 1980s.”
“I saw how, through my lived experiences, people were being treated simply off the color of their skin,” says St. John. “I took the route of research and …  I’ve really learned that data and information really impact change.”  
The study was published in the journal Race and Social Problems and looked at a sample of 12,368 people on probation in the United States from 1986 to 1989 to determine how race and ethnicity impacted a person’s chances of being re-arrested.
St. John discovered that black and brown people were experiencing drastic racial disparities in probation outcomes decades ago.
“The analysis reveals that there were significant associations with the race of a probationer and their likelihood for re-arrests while on probation,” says St. John. “There’s still a cyclical connection that’s happening. I really feel like it’s history repeating itself.”
St. John determined that black people were 270% more likely to be re-arrested for a felony while on probation compared to white probationers. Additionally, communities in which black and Latinx residents comprised up to 21% of the population were 100% more likely to re-arrest the probationers, and the odds of rearrests were greater for communities with over 44% of black and Latinx residents.
The findings, St. John says, could help current researchers and activists in the fight against mass incarceration.
“I think I’m making a difference. This is my overall goal, it’s my passion,” says St. John. “That’s why I continue to do justice work.” 
It was this passion that led St. John to pursue his master’s at John Jay while he worked at juvenile detention centers across the city as part of Close to Home, New York’s  juvenile justice reform initiative.
“I could’ve easily been one of these kids. Many of them came from, if not my community, communities that were very similar to mine,” says St. John. “Being in the facilities really reminded me why I was in the field I’m in.”
“I want to be a change agent for my community and the things that are taking place.”

Submitted on: NOV 13, 2019

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