Kimberly Kras, School of Criminology & Justice Studies
“UMass Lowell has put itself on the map. It has a presence in the field of sex offender research that’s really well-respected.”
Asst. Prof. Kimberly Kras worked with sex offenders and probation and parole violators as a probation officer in Missouri for three years. She also worked with specialty courts for veterans, gang members and people accused of drug crimes.
But she soon became frustrated. While there was plenty of research on the most violent and egregious sex offenders, there was very little on nonviolent, middle- and low-level sex offenders and how to keep them from committing new crimes.
So Kras headed to graduate school and studied what happens to those sex offenders after they’re released, how often they end up back behind bars, and why they do.
“My overarching goal was to make change, because I felt what I was doing as a probation officer was ineffective,” she says.
Kras’ findings are adding to a growing body of research that challenges stereotypes about sex offenders. Her research also raises questions about the appropriateness of one-size-fits-all laws and policies for a wide range of offenders and crimes, from possession of child pornography to teen sexting and public lewdness to rape.
Kras came to UMass Lowell in fall 2016 to join a growing group of faculty studying sex offenders and sexual violence, including Andrew Harris, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Asst. Profs. Kelly Socia and Jason Rydberg of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies.
“UMass Lowell has put itself on the map. It has a presence in the field of sex offender research that’s really well-respected,” she says.
Kras had collaborated with Rydberg on a previous project when they were graduate students at different universities. Now she’s doing research with Harris under a $1 million National Institute of Justice grant on how different states have implemented the information-sharing and community notification requirements of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.
Kras’ work is also helping undergird an effort by the National Institute of Corrections to create a research and evidence-based curriculum for training the next generation of probation and parole officers.
“When I was in the field, I didn’t think research actually mattered all that much,” she says. “I didn’t understand how it applied. No one connected the dots for me.”
She’s determined to connect those dots in her Community Corrections classes, though. Students must integrate research with practical skills such as scoring hypothetical offenders on a risk assessment measure and preparing case plans.
“I’m super-impressed with the students here and how involved they want to be in learning those skills,” she says.