Home | People |

Zachary Psick


  • University of California, Davis | PhD, Sociology, Present
  • University of California, Davis | MA, Sociology, 2015
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities | Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies/Public Health, 2014
  • Hamline University, St Paul | BA, Communication Studies, 2011
  • Normandale Community College, Bloomington, MN | AA, Liberal Education, 2009


I conduct mixed methods research on:

  • The causes and consequences of crime and punishment
  • Health, mental health, addiction
  • Identity (re)construction
  • Aging and the life course
  • Access and inequality in education
  • Political and organizational decision making
  • The (re)production of inequality across the life course, generations, and institutions
  • How academics and policymakers contribute to social problems they believe they are solving

Research Focus

I am currently working on four projects:

The Age of Mass Incarceration: The Entrenchment of the Carceral State in Our Communities

Keywords: aging, life course, reentry, mass incarceration, collateral consequences, health, inequality, dignity

My dissertation research examines the reentry process of formerly incarcerated people age 50 or older, focusing on factors related to long-term and late-life criminal justice contact. Most research on the reentry process focuses on younger people, it often conflates recidivism and reoffending, and it often focuses on individuals to the neglect of systemic factors that drive repeated returns to jail and/or prison. This limits our understanding of the factors driving both short- and long-term patterns of crime and punishment. I use official incarceration data from the National Corrections Reporting Program and qualitative data collected using participant observation and interviewing in Northern California to better understand how factors like important life events, stigma, the organization of social control systems, and the availability of community resources influence post-release outcomes and experiences.  

In short, my findings point to ways in which mass incarceration and the wars on drugs and crime that fuel it are far from over. 

Risk, Need, and Interinstitutionality: Explaining Pernicious Inequality in America's Public Institutions 

Keywords: school-to-prison pipeline, venue sorting, decision making, criminal risk assessment, racial disparities, juvenile incarceration, decision-making, 

Most social problems transcend institutional boundaries, obfuscating their origins and impeding efforts to solve them. This conceptual paper adds to a growing body of theorizing and research that underscores the need for analyses that look “beyond the walls” of organizations and institutions to see the ways exogenous forces shape micro-interactional and meso-level processes. Drawing primarily on socio-legal and neoinstitutionalist literatures, I argue that formal and informal links that allow resources, ideas, and cases to flow between organizations in separate institutions represent understudied pathways by which experiences and outcomes are produced, shaped, and sustained across life domains. I illustrate this phenomenon, which I call “interinstitutionality,” with an examination of linked inequality in the education and juvenile justice systems. 

In a companion paper, I test these ideas empirically. Research on social problems is often designed around logics and data that impede understanding of causal mechanisms that transcend institutional boundaries. Against this trend, I investigate linked inequality in the education and justice systems, conducting logistic regression and mediation analyses of survey data collected from public schools, alternative schools, and juvenile correctional facilities in order to better understand the factors that help explain why some children are sorted out of mainstream public schools. Framing my analyses around variables commonly used by both education and justice officials to inform sorting decisions, results indicate that material needs are more salient than "criminogenic risk" for understanding both sorting patterns and widespread inequities in the education and justice system. These findings have important implications for both research and policy.


We Are All Students

Keywords: public scholarship, digital humanities, incarceration, education, storytelling, community, democracy

We Are All Students (WAAS) is a public scholarship project that aims to: 1) inform the public about the interests and experiences of formerly incarcerated and other “system impacted” students whose lives, families, and communities have been affected by incarceration, deportation, or other forms of legal discrimination, 2) transform disparaging and false narratives about us and our communities into more empowering and accurate ones, and 3) help reform unjust education and incarceration policies and practices. As a “new media” organization, WAAS combines creative photography and storytelling with recent social scientific research and insights from the digital humanities. Currently, we are working on a social media campaign that conveys the social situations and experiences of those who attend higher education in the shadow of incarceration. We are also producing informational material about attending college with a felony conviction to help foster a “prison to school pipeline.”  Read more about WAAS and its funder, the Mellon Public Scholars Program, here.  

"Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will die or live poor butchered half lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution. Pass on the torch. Join us. Give up your life for the people.” -George Jackson, Blood in My Eye


Sin, Suffering, and the American Dream: Meaning and Opportunity in Evangelical Drug Rehab (co-author: Teresa Gowan, University of Minnesota)

Keywords: addiction, treatment, neoliberal social services, conversion, identity, recovery narratives

Conversion-based drug treatment has grown more prevalent since Charitable Choice opened the door to government funding of faith-based social services, now receiving unprecedented support and legitimacy within government, the media, and the public. Interactionist addiction scholarship suggests such programs might “work” by providing clients with a recovery narrative, allowing them to construct destigmatized recovery identities. We thicken this idea through our case study of Victory Center, a residential rehab and prison diversion program with close ties to the state. Using ethnography and interviewing, we show how radical identity reconstruction is instilled discursively within the context of firm institutional control and highly routinized, disciplined practice over the course of a year or more. 


Selected Publications

Psick, Zachary, Jonathan Simon, Rebecca Brown, and Cyrus Ahalt. 2017. “Older and Incarcerated: Policy Implications of Aging Prison Populations.” International Journal of Prisoner Health, 13(1): 57-63.



  • SOC 150: (Abolish) Criminology
  • SOC 155: Sociology of Law (Law ≠ Justice)
    • Spring 2021
  • SOC 171: (Governing through) Violence and Inequality
    • Winter 2022 
  • First Year Seminar: Health, Inequality, and the War on Drugs and Crime
    • Winter 2022 
    • Spring 2022
  • SOC 152: Juvenile Delinquency
    • Summer 2022 (In preparation) 


  • SOC 002: Self and Society
  • SOC 003: Social Problems
  • SOC 46A: Introduction to Social Research
  • SOC 46B: Introduction to Data Analysis
  • SOC 100: Classical Sociological Theory
  • SOC 151: The Criminal Justice System


University of California, Davis

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Honorable Mention, Proposal: “Causes and Correlates of Criminal Record Checks in College Admissions”
  • Graduate School of Management Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leaders for the Future Fellow (2019)
  • Mellon Public Scholars Program Research Grant ($10,000), Proposal: “We Are All Students” 
  • UC Davis Provost’s Fellowship
  • Institute for Social Science, UC Davis, Summer Research Grant (2016, 2017) 
  • Center for Poverty Research, UC Davis, Research Grant (2016) 
  • Department of Sociology, UC Davis, Travel Grant (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017) 
  • Department of Sociology, UC Davis, Small Grant for Research (2014, 2015, 2018) 
  • Institute for Governmental Affairs, UC Davis, Summer Research Grant (2014)

Hamline University

  • Summa Cum Laude | Phi Beta Kappa | Omicron Delta Kappa
  • Presidential Fellowship ($64,000)
  • Hamline University Collaborative Research Fellowship
  • Hamline University Travel Grant for Research
  • E.W. Randall Prize for Oral Presentation of Scholarly Work
  • Eliza A. Drew Prize in Communications (for best short story)
  • George Henry Bridgman Poetry Prize