Monica Williams

Assistant Professor
Criminal Justice Department

Faculty Advisor
Community Engaged Leaders Community Research Team

Ph.D. 2013, University of California, Davis

Email (preferred):
Phone: (801) 626-6231

Curriculum Vitae

Interest Areas

Law & society, community and societal responses to sex offenders, social control, policing

Current Research

  • "Constructing Hysteria: Legal Signals as Producers of Siting Conflicts over Sexually Violent Predatory Placements." Forthcoming. Law & Social Inquiry.
    • Sexually violent predator (SVP) statutes define some sex offenders as dangerous enough to be segregated from society, but then require their release into local communities. This article examines how decision makers and community members interpret and respond to this inherent contradiction during disputes over SVP placements. The article departs from traditional moral panic explanations of reactions to sex offenders by linking literature on local siting conflicts to insights from legal mobilization studies in order to understand the origins and features of community opposition to sex offenders. Data from three case studies of SVP placements in California suggest that interpretations of what I call legal signals, or implicit messages embedded in state laws, produced these conflicts. The findings shed new light on the role of law in siting conflicts and collective action by explaining how state laws facilitate communities’ exclusion from siting decisions, encourage local opposition, and disempower already marginalized communities.
  • "Contextualizing Community Crime Control: Race, Geography, and Configurations of Control in Four Communities." With Andrea Leverentz. Forthcoming. Criminology.
    • Criminology and urban sociology have long standing interests in how neighborhoods and communities respond to and control crime. We build on the literature on social disorganization, collective efficacy, and new parochialism to develop a framework that explains how and why communities respond differently to crime. We draw on comparative ethnographic and interview data on responses to crime in four communities in two states. We find that the intersections of racial composition, geography, and crime narratives in each place contributed to distinct community responses to crime. Analyzing these dynamics across the four sites, we propose three types of parochial-public partnerships that communities use to respond to crime: public alliances that rely primarily on public forms of control, tentative parochial-public partnerships that rely on tenuous connections with public institutions, and grassroots engagement with public institutions. We explain the emergence of these three approaches as patterned responses rooted in characteristics of local contexts, including racial composition and geographic isolation.

  • Book manuscript: No Good Place: Community Activism and the Sex Offender Housing Dilemma. Under contract at NYU Press.
    • No Good Place is a study of variation in community responses to sex offenders. Popular accounts of reactions to sex offenders suggest a nation of vigilantes, but responses to sex offenders often involve collective campaigns that target political and criminal justice systems rather than individual offenders. No Good Place draws on data from case studies of three California communities to examine how local political and legal contexts contribute to variation in community responses to violent sex offenders. I argue that communities’ orientations to political and legal authority, which stem from historical and contemporary relationships between communities and local political structures, politicians, law enforcement, and the courts, contribute to community response strategies. These findings suggest a new perspective on community responses to sex offenders as a contemporary form of civic engagement. When published, the book will inform debates over community members’ involvement in decision-making about sex offender reintegration. More broadly, by showing how relationships between communities and formal institutions contribute to response strategies, the book will enhance scholarly understanding of the local roots of responses to crime, legal and political mobilization, and collective action.
  • The Laws that Weren't: State Resistance to the Allure of Sex Offender Residence Restrictions.
    • Sex offender residence restrictions appear to be largely symbolic laws: they address constituent demands to do something about sex offending, but no empirical evidence suggests that residence restrictions reduce recidivism or the overall rate of sex crimes. While the majority of U.S. states has implemented restrictions on where sex offenders can live, some states have resisted the allure of residence restrictions. This exploratory study focuses on states without residence restrictions. Using data from state government archives and online media articles, I will answer the following questions: how many states have debated residence restrictions without passing them? What were the rationales for not passing these restrictions? Do these states share common characteristics such as similar political ideologies and/or a lack of well-publicized instances of child rape-murder cases? Examining why such popular laws did not pass provides insight into the features of sex offender laws that appeal to the public and politicians and how they might be scaled back in light of increasing evidence of their ineffectiveness. More broadly, the findings will illuminate the processes by which symbolic laws may lose their power in certain state-level contexts.

Selected Scholarship

Community Engaged Research

As the faculty advisor for the Community Engaged Leaders Community Research Team at Weber State's Center for Community Engaged Learning, I have mentored numerous students on designing and implementing research projects in collaboration with community partners. The following list briefly describes these projects.

  • Ogden policing survey. 2016-present. A survey conducted in collaboration with the Ogden Police Department to assess Ogden residents' perceptions of and attitudes toward the police. Principal Investigator: Monica Williams; Student leader: Gary Duran.
  • Project Success research project. 2016-present. A research project with and for the Project Success Coalition. Principal Investigator: Monica Williams and Pamela Payne; Student leader: Madelaine Tesori.
  • DaVinci Academy surveys. 2015-present. A set of surveys of parents, teachers, and students at DaVinci Academy to help assess whether the school is meeting its stated mission. Principal Investigators: Pamela Payne and Monica Williams; Student leader: Tess Kendall.
  • South Ogden survey. 2014-present. A survey conducted in collaboration with South Ogden City to assess South Ogden residents' perceptions of and satisfaction with local government services. Principal Investigators: Monica Williams and Pamela Payne; Student leader: Yolanda Fredrickson.
  • Weber State University Continuing Education survey. 2014-2016. A survey conducted in collaboration with WSU's Continuing Education Department to assess the continuing education needs of those who live near WSU's satellite campuses. Principal Investigators: Pamela Payne, Monica Williams, and James Zagrodnik; Student Leaders: Madelaine Tesori, David Garcia, Ariel Hayes.
  • Havoc K9 literature review. 2015. A review of the literature conducted at the request of Havoc K9 to better understand the effects of K9 units on policing outcomes. Principal Investigators: Monica Williams and Pamela Payne; Student leader: Kendyl Gull.

Courses Taught

CJ 1010: Introduction to Criminal Justice
CJ 2300: Policing: History, Theory, and Practice
CJ 3600: Criminal Justice Statistics
CJ 4065: Law & Society
CJ 4900: Sex Crime and the Criminal Justice System
CJ 4995: Senior Capstone
MCJ 6130: Law and Social Control