Surveillance, Stigma, and Ethics in Criminal Justice Research

By: Deanna Medina, GSAS Ethics and Society

On Tuesday, September 20th, 2022, the Center for Ethics Education hosted a Zoom conversation on the topic of “Surveillance, Stigma, and Ethics in Criminal Justice Research.” This was the first installment of the Center’s Fall 2022 discussion series. The two speakers present were Dr. Alana Gunn, PhD, MSW, MPP and Dr. Brandon Del Pozo, PhD, MPA, MA,  the conversation was facilitated by Dr. Steven Swartzer, PhD who engaged in an introduction on surveillance and stigma, as well as led the Q&A. 

Dr. Alana Gunn

Dr. Alana Gunn is an Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Fellow. Gunn has extensive practice in community organizing, working with individuals who navigate criminal legal involvement and agencies charged with supporting their reintegration process. Her program of research focuses on the ways in which multi-level experiences of stigmatization shape the health and well-being of individuals, particularly women, with intersecting histories of criminal legal involvement and substance use disorders. She is a graduate of Vassar College and holds an AM, MPP, and Ph. D. in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Gunn’s work focuses on women with substance abuse issues specifically, formerly incarcerated black women. Dr. Gunn solely works with qualitative information gathered from interviewing. She argues that qualitative interviewing as a means of research is not only a way to redress biased knowledge production in research, but it’s also an empowering endeavor that facilitates individuals to regain power over their story. When considering the topics of “surveillance” and “stigma,” Dr. Gunn explains that formerly incarcerated black women experience a myriad of generalizations related to their experiences with: addiction, incarceration, sex work, impaired mothering. Dr. Gunn argues that stigma is a form of surveillance. When topics like: addiction or sex work are perceived by participants during research studies as points of coercion and manipulation that exacerbate emotional distress by interviewers, stigma then becomes a form of surveillance. When participants are made to feel guilty about their story, researchers are limiting their ability to fully share experiences and thus surveil the interaction. 

Dr. Gunn shares a current study in which she has about 28 formerly incarcerated black women, who all engaged in mandatory drug treatment rehab, and who all were on parole. In the interviews the following two significant quotes were shared:

“These PO’s are quick to tell you, ‘You’re out here smoking crack’, or ‘If you wasn’t out here running around after this guy, doing what they do, you wouldn’t be here’.” 

“My stories are not for someone to shame me.”

The first quote describes the judgment and stigma law enforcement has on formerly incarcerated black women by blaming men for their choices and assuming they use crack. The second quotation was from another participant who  states that her stories are not for others to judge her because of her experience with stigma. Dr. Gunn’s findings from these interviews shows how “compassionate research” is critical in order to create a safe space for participants, without stigma or surveillance. Her findings prove that this can be done through sharing of power from the researcher to the participant, validation, and shared vulnerability. 

Dr. Brandon del Pozo

Dr. Brandon del Pozo who is an Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy, and Practice in the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. He is a research scientist with Rhode Island Hospital, and teaches Addiction Policy at Georgetown University. Del Pozo spent 23 years as a Police Officer and four as the Chief of Police of Burlington, Vermont. His research concentrates on addressing the health harms of criminal justice involvement among vulnerable populations, reducing police stigma toward people who use drugs and utilizing criminal justice connections to link these populations with effective substance use treatment, harm reduction, and reduction intervention. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the City University of New York Graduate Center, a MPA from Harvard University, and an MA in Criminal Justice from John J. College.

Dr. del Pozo begins his presentation by stating that the New York City Police Charter states one of the goals of the police is to “guard public health.” Public health versus public safety have different connotations but virtually mean similar things. He goes on to address different points in the criminal justice system in which research has been done and finds a gap at the entry point. The entry point is a point referencing those at risk of entering the criminal justice system because of variables like drug use or small crimes. He argues that research done here would be beneficial to avoid the lifetime stigma of being incarcerated, the harms of going through incarceration, and applicable to the entire population. His research has led him to argue that attention to people in the “entry point” of the system is a form of guarding public health. 

Dr. del Pozo references “Narcotics Arrest Diversion Programs” which explains circumstances where police discretion is required. In his study, “Police discretion in encounters with people who use drugs: operationalizing the theory of planned behavior”, it was found that 69% of officers say they have at least some control over their decisions to arrest or not. Variables that are considered when debating an arrest are: seriousness of the offense, expectations of supervisor, and the attitude of the suspect. He argues that stigma has an effect on all of these variables to an extent, and can play a major role in policing and decision making. Finally, del Pozo shared that in the district where he was police chief, they decriminalized certain opioids because they looked at the issue as one of public health and addiction disorder. 

Please visit the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education‘s Events Page for upcoming events and webinars. For questions on the series, please email Dr. Steven Swartzer, Associate Director of Academic Programs, at

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