Our History

Today's Department of Criminal Justice emerged from  Indiana University's long-standing commitment to integrating law and the social sciences with the study of justice. Our Department has a very rich history that, from the start, reflected our continuing mission of engaging multiple disciplines to understand the nature of crime and society's responses to violence and injustice.

The Department's institutional foundation rests on the efforts of two pioneers in the fields of law and criminal justice: Professor of Law Jerome Hall and sociologist Edwin H. Sutherland. Hall advocated the importance of using scientific methods to understand the practice of law. He is famously known for his groundbreaking empirical analyses of law, arguably best captured in his text Theft, Law, and Society. Sutherland, who required his students to minor in criminal law, was widely regarded as America's foremost criminologist in his day. He continues to be a towering figure. His books Principles of Criminology, The Professional Thief, and White-Collar Crime continue to shape many areas of criminal justice. At the instigation of these two insightful scholars, the Board of Trustees, on June 15, 1935, established the Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology.

The Institute sought to coordinate, extend, and supplement the facilities and services of the University's departments and schools that were related to the administration of criminal law. It also provided the institutional foundation for the relationship between law and the sciences at Indiana University. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Institute's student enrollments grew rapidly and its research projects broadened. The Institute's prominence in the study of law and crime increased, both in terms of research and teaching activities. Shortly following World War II, the Institute's rapid growth led the University to transform the Institute into a department; the Institute became formally known as the Department of Police Administration. Unlike other universities that provided training for law enforcement, Indiana recognized the need to offer a broad background to those who would enter law enforcement but, equally importantly, the need to offer a background in law enforcement to students in related fields, such as political science, psychology, and sociology. From its inception, the Department offered a four-year B.A. degree in the College of Arts and Sciences. This development meant that our Department was the first to recognize the importance of college-level training in police work in the context of the liberal arts.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Department continued to expand its focus. During that time, the department made several important appointments, such as that of noted critical criminologist Hal Pepinksy who became known as an incredibly gifted teacher who taught, among other things, courses on "alternative systems of social control."  The Department also attracted and relied heavily on top scholars who were trained in different disciplines; these scholars included Ellen Dwyer (history), Lee Luskin (Political Science), Philip Parnell (Anthropology) and Cathy Widom (Psychology). These new faculty members permitted the Department to develop and add innovative courses to complement what previously had been known as core courses in forensic and policing science. Their courses continued the tradition of looking at multiple facets of crime and justice, as reflected in such courses as the history of crime, social control, psychology of crime, community policing, alternative dispute negotiations, court administration, and courses adopting a cross-cultural perspective. The group's commitment to interdisciplinary research helped attract faculty from a broad range of academic disciplines as well as those trained in criminal justice itself. In an effort to reflect the faculty's diversity of interests and research goals, the Department changed its name twice during this period. For a brief period, the department was known as the Department of Forensic Studies. That focus reflected, for example, the work of Robert Borkenstein, widely known for inventing and popularizing the Breathalizer. In 1985, the Department acquired its present and more encompassing name of Criminal Justice. This new name reflected the Department's effort to broaden its intellectual reach even further than it already had sought at its inception.

Soon after, the Department recruited Coramae Richey Mann to help establish a doctoral program. Mann was, and remains, a major intellectual figure in the study of race, gender and inequality who vehemently argued that the criminal justice system was racist. Her strong personality was instrumental in creating an environment that attracted to IU several prominent researchers who study the intersections of race and crime. She helped ensure that the Department would be a leading center of research relating to race, diversity, and inequality.

In 1997, the Department's faculty solidified its commitment to research and teaching by formally launching its Ph.D. program in what has become known as the field of criminal justice. Given its institutional history, it is not surprising to find the program’s strong commitment to interdisciplinary approaches to understanding crime and justice. The Department eventually would hire sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, demographers, criminologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and developmentalists. The department did so while hiring several professors who were trained formally in "criminal justice". These additions ensured that students, both graduate and undergraduate, would benefit from the work of faculty who conduct research and teach in what has become recognized as the field of criminal justice as well as in other fields that examine issues relating to crime and justice.

The Department of Criminal Justice still fully embraces its liberal arts mission. Faculty seek to bridge the gaps between law and the social sciences through the study of the administration of criminal and civil justice systems, the nature of crime and deviance, the relationship between law and its social context, and the recognition of the importance of cross-cultural inquiry for the field. Equally importantly, faculty members are known for moving their inquiry beyond the study of law and formal justice systems and toward the study of many forms of violence in personal relationships, institutions, and broader society. Just as we have become unique in our focus on international and cross-cultural inquiry, we now have become unique in our recognition that issues of crime and justice involve profound issues of mental health and mental health systems. We are a diverse group, but each one of us remains committed to reshaping, challenging and furthering our understanding of crime and justice.