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Zachary Psick


  • University of California, Davis
  • MA, Sociology, 2015
  • PhD, Sociology, Present
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • 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
  • Aging and the life course
  • Political and organizational decision making
  • The (re)production of inequality across the life course, generations, and institutions

Research Focus

I am currently working on four projects:

The Age of Prisoner Reentry

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 prisoner reentry research focuses on younger people, and it often conflates recidivism and reoffending. 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. 


Risk, Need, and Interinstitutionality: Explaining Pernicious Inequality in a Managerial Age

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 regression and mediation analyses of survey data collected from public schools, alternative schools, and juvenile correctional facilities. Framing my analyses around variables commonly used by both education and justice officials to inform sorting decisions, I show material needs are more salient than innate risk for understanding both sorting patterns and widespread inequities in the education and justice system. 


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 the criminal justice system, 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.  


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.


University of California, Davis

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Honorable Mention, Proposal: “Causes and Correlates of Criminal Record Checks in College Admissions”

UC Davis Graduate School of Management Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leaders for the Future Fellow

Mellon Public Scholars Program Research Grant ($10,000), Proposal: “We Are All Students” 

UC Davis Provost’s Fellowship

Summer Research Grant (2016, 2017) Institute for Social Science, UC Davis

Research Grant (2016) Center for Poverty Research 

Travel Grant (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017) Department of Sociology, UC Davis 

Small Grant for Research (2014, 2015, 2018) Department of Sociology, UC Davis 

Summer Research Grant (2014) Institute for Governmental Affairs, UC Davis 

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