Dr. McCorkel is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Villanova University and the Founder and Executive Director of the Philadelphia Justice Project for Women and Girls. Additionally, she is program faculty in Villanova’s Center for Irish Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, and Africana Studies. During Fall 2017, she was a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in the Sutherland School of Law at University College Dublin (Ireland).
Dr. McCorkel’s research investigates the social and political consequences of mass incarceration in the United States. She focuses primarily on how law and systems of punishment perpetuate race, class, and gender-based inequities. Her critically acclaimed first book, Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment (New York University Press), explores the impact of the War on Drugs and punitive criminal justice policies for women’s prisons. It is the only behind-the-walls study of an American women’s prison during the height of mass incarceration and one of very few “classic-style” prison ethnographies produced in the last four decades. Her book was selected by the Society for the Study of Social Problems as a finalist for the prestigious C. Wright Mills Award.
Dr. McCorkel is at work on a second book that considers #MeToo in the context of mass incarceration. In Dr. McCorkel’s powerful TEDx talk from this project, she summarizes the wrongful conviction case of a young Philadelphia mother, Cynthia Alvarado, to demonstrate how gender inequality, in the context of poverty and racial inequality, renders women particularly vulnerable to the abuses and excesses of mass incarceration and punitive crime policies.
Dr. McCorkel’s research on prisons and punishment appears in leading scientific journals including Social Problems, Punishment & Society, Social Politics, Qualitative Sociology, Studies in Law, Politics & Society, and Journal of Contemporary Drug Problems. In 2014, Dr. McCorkel received the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology Division of Women and Crime for her work. In 2019, she received the Mid-Career Scholar Award from Villanova University. Her scholarship and writing have been featured in variety of news outlets including The Boston Globe, Washington Post, Salon, The Conversation, Raw Story, Marketwatch, Business Insider, Vox, United Press International, and Public Radio International. A recent story in the Philadelphia Inquirer details her advocacy work in the Cynthia Alvarado case.
In 2017, Dr. McCorkel was a campaign advisor to Larry Krasner during his successful run for District Attorney of Philadelphia. She is a member of the editorial board of Journal of Higher Education in Prison and served for over a decade as an advisory board member and instructor in Villanova’s undergraduate degree program at SCI-Phoenix (formerly Graterford), the largest maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, she has provided pro bono assistance to incarcerated men and women on petitions for commutation and parole, as well as research in support of appellate matters. In 2020, Dr. McCorkel founded the Philadelphia Justice Project for Women and Girls, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to ending the mass incarceration of women and girls. The organization recently launched a chapter at Villanova University that trains undergraduate students in how to provide effective research and advocacy in support of justice impacted individuals, families, and communities.
On campus, Dr. McCorkel teaches courses in the Sociology of Law, Punishment & Society, and Introduction to Sociology. Villanova University recently featured her innovative Sociology of Punishment course among its select group of “captivating courses.” In 2021, Dr. McCorkel launched the university’s first-ever Research Seminar in Wrongful Convictions. Dr. McCorkel has been a semi-finalist for the University’s Lindback Teaching Award and, in 2013, was selected by the senior class to give Villanova University’s “Last Lecture.”