Dr Alexandra Cox

Senior Lecturer
Department of Sociology
Dr Alexandra Cox
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 873039

  • Location

    6.326, Colchester Campus

  • Academic support hours

    Wednesdays 11am-1pm by appointment.



Alexandra came to the University of Essex after serving as an Assistant Professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz in their Department of Sociology. Prior to getting her Ph.D., she worked in the fields of criminal justice and drug policy reform for a number of years, at the American Civil LIberties Union's Drug Law Reform project, the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of Legal Affairs (in California) and then at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, a community-based public defender office in New York City. She has continued to practice as a sentencing mitigation specialist, representing primarily young people charged as adults. Through that work, she has served on the boards of several organizations, including the New York State Defenders Association, Drama Club (which provides theater programming to incarcerated youth), Reentry Columbia, and Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. She was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to support her doctoral work and served as a Soros Justice Advocacy fellow, focusing on the role that frontline workers play in resisting decarceration. In 2017, she was a research fellow at Yale Law School, working on a study about the role of frontline workers in New York's criminal justice system. Alexandra's book, Trapped in a Vice: the Consequences of Confinement for Young People, explores the consequences of a juvenile justice system that is aimed at promoting change in the lives of young people, yet ultimately relies upon tools and strategies that enmesh them in a system that they struggle to move beyond. The system, rather than the crimes themselves, is the vice. It also acts as a vise in the lives of young people, pushing young people to change through the use of intensive interventions and services, but also pulling them away from meaningful opportunities for growth and development. The book explores the lives of the young people and adults in New York's justice system, revealing the ways that they struggle to manage the expectations of that system; these stories from the ground level of the justice system reveal the complex exchange of policy and practice. The book won the American Society of Criminology's Critical Criminology book award. Alexandra's newest book is a handbook on youth imprisonment, co-edited with Professor Laura Abrams of UCLA, and published by Palgrave Macmillan.


  • BA, American Studies, Yale University, 2001

  • M.Phil, Criminological Research, University of Cambridge, 2007 (First Class Degree)

  • Ph.D., Criminology, University of Cambridge, 2012


University of Essex

  • Director, Death Penalty Sentencing Mitigation Clinic, Law, University of Essex (1/10/2018 - present)

  • Director of Education, Sociology, University of Essex (15/8/2022 - present)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Youth justice

Racism, crime and punishment

Penal ethics

Mercy and equitable discretion

Arts and imprisonment

'Street level' bureaucrats and the criminal justice system

Current research

Mercy and the Exercise of Justice with Reginald Dwayne Betts -A qualitative study examining the role that mercy plays in the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

A Community Study of Procedural Justice and Criminal Justice System Legitimacy with Tom Tyler, Tracey Meares, Megan Quattlebaum, Rachel Johnston, Monica Bell, and Thomas O'Brien - This project examines community-level perceptions of procedural justice—as applied not just to policing, but to the criminal justice system at large—and measures the effects of those perceptions on a range of outcomes. A second component of the project examines perceptions of procedural justice among workers in various jobs the criminal justice system, and examines how their views impact upon the legitimacy of the system as a whole.

Conferences and presentations

Power over vs. Power with: What youth workers' experiences reveal about the promise and challenges of enacting equitable youth-adult relationships in juvenile facilities

18th Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action, 22/6/2021

Roundable session: “Histories of the Carceral State in the United States: Progress, Problems, and Controversies”

Law and Society Association annual conference, Washington D.C., United States, 30/5/2019

Author meets critic session for ‘Trapped in a Vice’

Law and Society Association annual conference, Washington D.C., United States, 30/5/2019

Roundtable on Mass Supervision

American Society of Criminology conference, American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, United States, 16/11/2018

Author meets critic session for 'Trapped in a Vice' with Avi Brisman, Geoff Ward, Jo Phoenix and Carla Shedd

American Society of Criminology, American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, United States, 14/11/2018

Trapped in a Vice: The Consequences of Confinement for Young People

Invited presentation, University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology speaker series, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2/11/2018

Resistance to Juvenile Justice Reform: The Role of Frontline Workers

American Sociological Association conference, Philadelphia, United States, 13/8/2018

Challenging the Paradigm of Accuracy in Machine Learning

Society for the Study of Social Problems, Philadelphia, United States, 12/8/2018

A Critical Exploration of Youth Justice Reforms in the 21st Century

Society for the Study of Social Problems conference, Philadelphia, United States, 10/8/2018

Questions of Self-Determination and Liberty in Juvenile Institutions

Invited presentation, Society of Captives Anniversary conference, Leicester, United Kingdom, 27/6/2018

An American View on Contemporary Youth Justice

American Society of Criminology annual conference, American Society of Criminology annual conference, Philadelphia, United States, 17/11/2017

Social Science Research and the Criminal Case

American Society of Criminology annual conference, Philadelphia, United States, 16/11/2017

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Critical Debates in Childhood and Childhood Studies (PA943)

  • Childhood Innocence and Deviance (SC311)

  • Crime, Policy and Social Justice (SC382)

  • Work-Based Learning: Sociology (SC390)

  • Crisis of the American Idea (CS261)

Previous supervision

Timothy Charles Hanbury Head
Timothy Charles Hanbury Head
Thesis title: The Limits of Legitimacy: Power, Racism, and the Policing of Youth in Inner-City London
Degree subject: Government
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 14/7/2022


Journal articles (15)

Ofori, A. and Cox, A., Young People’s Engagement in Youth Justice Practices. Probation Quarterly. 22, 54-59

Cox, A., (2022). The Legitimation Strategies of ‘Progressive’ Prosecutors. Social and Legal Studies: an international journal. 31 (5), 657-678

Cox, AL., (2022). Book Review: Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York by Carl Suddler. Punishment & Society, 146247452210767-146247452210767

Cox, A., (2021). Social Movements in Juvenile Prisons: An Investigation. Social Justice. 47 (1-2)

Cox, A., (2021). The New Economy and Youth Justice. Youth Justice. 21 (1), 107-126

Cox, A. and Betts, RD., (2021). Mercy Towards Decarceration: Examining the Legal Constraints on Early Release from Prison. Incarceration. 2 (1), 1-14

Cox, A., (2021). The Sociological Landscape of Youth Confinement. Sociology Compass. 15 (12)

Cox, A., (2020). The Language of Incarceration. Incarceration. 1 (1), 263266632094085-263266632094085

Cox, A., (2019). Challenging the Logics of Reformism and Humanism in Juvenile Justice Rhetoric. Critical Criminology. 27 (4), 543-558

Sankofa, J., Cox, A., Fader, JJ., Inderbitzin, M., Abrams, LS. and Nurse, AM., (2018). Juvenile Corrections in the Era of Reform: A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 62 (7), 1763-1786

Cox, AL., (2018). Juvenile Facility Staff Contestations of Change. Youth Justice. 18 (3), 248-264

Cox, A., (2015). Fresh air funds and functional families: The enduring politics of race, family and place in juvenile justice reform. Theoretical Criminology. 19 (4), 554-570

Cox, AL., (2014). Responsible submission: The racialized consequences of neoliberal juvenile justice practices. Social Justice. 41 (4), 23-39

Cox, AL., (2013). New visions of social control? Young people's perceptions of community penalties. Journal of Youth Studies. 16 (1), 135-150

Cox, AL., (2011). Doing the programme or doing me? The pains of youth imprisonment. Punishment & Society. 13 (5), 592-610

Books (3)

Cox, A. and Abrams, LS., (2021). The Palgrave International Handbook of Youth Imprisonment. Palgrave Macmillan. 3030687589. 9783030687588

Carrabine, E., Cox, P., Cox, A., Crowhurst, I., Di Ronco, A., Fussey, P., Sergi, A., South, N., Thiel, D. and Turton, J., (2020). Criminology. A Sociological Introduction (Fourth edition). Routledge

Cox, AL., (2018). Trapped in a vice: The consequences of confinement for young people. Rutgers University Press. 0813575656. 978-0813570464

Book chapters (7)

Cox, A., (2021). Juvenile Facility Staff: Research, Policy, and Practice. In: The Palgrave International Handbook of Youth Imprisonment. Editors: Cox, A. and Abrams, LS., . Palgrave. 243- 264. 978-3-030-68758-8

Cox, AL. and Betts, RD., (2020). Mercy-oriented reentry and reintegration: Lessons from Policy and Practice. In: Moving Beyond Recidivism: Expanding Approaches to Research on Prisoner Reentry and Reintegration. Editors: Leverentz, A., Chen, EY. and Christian, J., . NYU Press. 9781479853885

Cox, AL. and Egozy, O., (2017). Youth Facilities and Violence: An Overview. In: The Wiley Handbook on Violence and Aggression. Editors: Sturmey, P., . Wiley. 1- 11. 978-1-119-05755-0

Cox, AL., (2016). Fetishizing the will in juvenile justice policy and practice. In: The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics. Editors: Jacobs, J. and Jackson, J., . Routledge. 301- 314. 9780415708654

Cox, A. and Gelsthorpe, L., (2016). Creative Encounters: Whatever Happened to the Arts in Prisons?. In: The Arts of Imprisonment: Control, Resistance and Empowerment. 257- 275. 9780754675860

Cox, AL., (2014). Brain Science and Juvenile Justice. In: Juvenile Justice Sourcebook: Past Present and Future. Editors: Roberts, AR., Church II, WT. and Springer, D., . Oxford University Press. 123- 148. 978-0199324613

Cox, AL., (2012). Anchoring identity: the construction of responsibility for and by young offenders in the US. In: Critical geographies of childhood and youth: Contemporary policy and practice. The Policy Press. 199- 199. 1847428452. 9781847428455

Reports and Papers (7)

Cox, A., Ofori, A., Jolaoso, B., Robin-D’Cruz, C. and Whitehead, S., (2021). Equal diversion? Racial disproportionality in youth diversion

Cox, A., Johnston, R., Gripp, C., O'Brien, T. and Sarnoff, C., (2019). A Study of Procedural Justice and Criminal Justice System Legitimacy

Cox, A., Custer, B. and Stacey, C., (2018). University Admissions and Criminal Records: Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Cox, AL., (2013). Juvenile Facility Staff Responses to Organizational Change

Cox, AL. and Gelsthorpe, L., (2012). Creative Encounters: Whatever Happened to the Arts in Prisons?

Cox, AL. and Gelsthorpe, L., (2008). Beats and Bars, Music in Prisons: An Evaluation

Uelmen, G., Abrahamson, DN., Appel, JK., Cox, AL. and Tylor, WA., (2002). Substance abuse and crime prevention act of 2000: Progress report

Other (12)

Cox, AL., (2021).Book review: Ben Crewe, Susie Hulley and Serena Wright, Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: Adaptation, Identity and Time. Theoretical Criminology. 25(1),SAGE Publications

Cox, AL., (2019).Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison. The British Journal of Criminology. 59(3),Oxford University Press (OUP)

Cox, A., (2019).Relationships matter: addressing worker conditions in care homes,The Howard League

Cox, AL., (2018).Book review of Patrick Lopez-Aguado, Stick Together and Come Back Home, University of California Press: Oakland, CA. Theoretical Criminology. 23(3),SAGE Publications

Cox, AL., (2018).Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood among Formerly Incarcerated Youth L. Abrams and D. Terry. New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press. (2017) 237pp. ISBN 978-0-8135-7446-2. Howard Journal of Crime and Justice. 57(4),Wiley

Cox, AL., (2017).On the Durability of Carceral Logics: A Review of Three New Works. Critical Criminology. 25(3),Springer Netherlands

Cox, AL., (2014).Laura S. Abrams and Ben Anderson-Nathe, Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C. Qualitative Social Work. 13(1),SAGE Publications

Cox, AL., (2012).Young people's responses to juvenile justice interventions,University of Cambridge

Cox, AL., (2009).Deep Inside by M. Willmott. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. 48(2),Wiley Online Library

Cox, AL., (2009).Review of Irish Children and Teenagers in a Changing World: The National Write Here, Write Now Project,Sociological Research Online

Cox, A., (2009).Irish Children and Teenagers in a Changing World: The National Write Here, Write Now Project. SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE. 14(2-3)

Cox, AL., (2008).WEB Du Bois on Crime and Justice by SL Gabbidon. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. 47(3),Blackwell Publishing Ltd

+44 (0) 1206 873039


6.326, Colchester Campus

Academic support hours:

Wednesdays 11am-1pm by appointment.

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