Monica Williams

Assistant Professor
Criminal Justice Department

Faculty Adviser
Community Engaged Leaders Community Research Team

Ph.D. 2013, University of California, Davis

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

Curriculum Vitae

Interest Areas

Policing, community and societal responses to sex offenders, law & society, social control

Current Research

  • Book manuscript: The Sex Offender Housing Dilemma: Community Activism, Safety, and Social Justice. In press 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.

  • Williams, Monica and Pamela Payne. "Engaging Undergraduates in Co-curricular Community-based Research: Strategies for Success." Under review at the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement.

While it is well documented (e.g., Einfeld & Collins, 2001; Strand, Cutforth, Stoecker, Marullo & Donohue, 2003) that community engaged learning is important for improving the civic-mindedness of college graduates, much of what we know focuses on community service. Yet students can also impact communities through other types of co-curricular community engagement such as community-based research. This presentation addresses the promises and limitations of undergraduate community-based research programs for solving two interwoven problems that universities face: 1) how to help solve community problems, and 2) how to engage students (particularly undergraduates) in high-impact practices that will help motivate them to finish their degrees and emerge from higher education as civically minded individuals. To help universities meet these challenges, we use evidence from a Community Engaged Learning (CEL) program at a regional comprehensive university to identify and discuss five keys to success when implementing an undergraduate, community-based research program. The five keys to success include: 1) prior planning, 2) choosing appropriate projects, 3) ensuring students take ownership of projects, 4) creating a structure for students to work within, and 5) teaching students to seek out resources. Awareness of these strategies can help address the challenges of co-curricular programing in general, and community-based research in particular; a field that often fills undergraduates with apprehension and angst. In explaining these keys to success, we also address the strengths and limitations of co-curricular community-based research programming, as well as recommendations and future directions for the field of community engaged learning through undergraduate research.

  • Williams, Monica, Erin Comartin, and Robert Lytle. "The Laws that Weren't: State Resistance to the Allure of Sex Offender Residence Restrictions." Under review at Law & Society Review.

Sex offender residence restrictions appear to be largely symbolic laws: they address constituent demands to do something about sex offending, but they do not reduce recidivism or rates of sex crimes. While the majority of U.S. states has implemented such restrictions, some have resisted the allure of these symbolic laws. This exploratory study focuses on three such states. Using data from state government archives, we analyze the expressive and instrumental rationales for not passing residence restrictions to find out what facilitates the failing of a symbolic law. We find that while supporters and opponents both made largely instrumental arguments, opponents went a step further to frame their instrumental arguments in expressive terms. Further, legislators’ policy positions, reliance on empirical evidence, and testimony from government bureaucrats contributed to the failure of residence restrictions in these three states. Our findings provide insight into why sex offender laws appeal to the public and politicians and how these laws might be scaled back in light of increasing evidence of their ineffectiveness. More broadly, the findings illuminate how symbolic laws may lose their power in certain state-level contexts, and they suggest that some state legislatures may be less receptive to symbolic legislation than previously hypothesized.

  • Williams, Monica and Azenett Garza. "An Exploration of How Racial and Ethnic Minority Status, Neighborhood Risk Levels, Informal Social Control and Collective Efficacy Impact Satisfaction with Police." Journal article in progress.

A vast body of research has shown that people in racial and ethnic minority groups have less positive perceptions of the police. Recent studies have begun to consider the extent to which neighborhood factors account for these differing perceptions, with at least one study finding that differences in satisfaction with the police between White and African American individuals disappear when controlling for neighborhood factors such as concentrated disadvantage (Wu, Sun, and Triplett 2009). The current study expands upon these findings by using data from a survey (n=383) of public opinion on policing in a mid-sized urban city to examine the extent to which differences in perceived levels of informal social control and collective efficacy contribute to differences in perceptions of the police. Preliminary analyses indicate differences in perceptions of the police based on neighborhood risk levels and racial and ethnic group. In further analysis, we will use multilevel modeling to determine how much of the variation in perceptions of the police can be attributed to differences in informal social control and collective efficacy across neighborhoods. In addition to enhancing our understanding of the factors that impact public perceptions of the police, the findings from this study will help inform sociolegal theories about the relationship between individuals, communities, and law enforcement.

Selected Scholarship

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.

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.

Selected Community Engaged Research

As the faculty adviser 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 disproportionate minority contact project. 2017-present. A research project being designed with and for Ogden Police Department to assess disproportionate contact with minority groups in Ogden. Principal Investigator: Monica Wiliams and Pamela Payne; Student leaders: Steiner Houston and Carrie Stone.
  • Project Success research project. 2016-present. A research project with and for the Project Success Coalition. Principal Investigator: Monica Williams and Pamela Payne; Student leaders: Madelaine Tesori and Courtney Condie.
  • Ogden policing survey. 2016-2017. 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 leaders: Carlee Smith and Gary Duran.
  • South Ogden survey. 2014-2017. 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 leaders: Ailee Irvine, Yolanda Fredrickson, and Courtney Condie.
  • DaVinci Academy surveys. 2015-2017. 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 leaders: Tess Kendall and Marla Rosenvall.


  • Gene Sessions Outstanding Teaching Award. 2017. College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Weber State University.
  • Utah Campus Compact Presidential Award for Community Engaged Faculty Member. 2017. Center for Community Engaged Learning, Weber State University.

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
  • CJ4950/MCJ6250: Criminal Justice in London Study Abroad
  • CJ 4995: Senior Capstone
  • MCJ 6130: Law and Social Control
  • MCJ 6255: Great Thoughts in Criminal Justice