As a student speaker at Commencement in May 2015, when she received her undergraduate degree in criminal justice, Qurat Ann spoke about the importance of making a positive change in “this ever-darkening world.” Afterward, Assoc. Prof. Andrew Harris came up to her, shook her hand and said, “That was really good.”
Ann had no idea who he was.
A week later, she was hanging around with a couple of friends in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies – she’d already been accepted into the Ph.D. program – when Harris stepped off the elevator, saw her and asked, “What are you doing this summer?”
“I said ‘Nothing. Do you have anything for me?’” says Ann, who quickly looked up Harris and discovered that he was a nationally known researcher. “He did. He put me on his project and gave me a chance – and I’m eternally grateful, because it changed my life.”
Harris had just won a $1 million, three-year National Institute of Justice grant to study whether the 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) had improved public safety by requiring states to adopt certain policies and share information with each other and the public.
Since then, Ann has helped Harris and co-investigator Asst. Prof. Kimberley Kras visit states across the country, collect data on SORNA and analyze it. Under the grant, they are studying 10 states in depth: About half have implemented all of the federal law’s requirements and half have not.
Ann is also working separately with Harris on a massive national inventory of sex offender registration laws and policies in each state.
For her dissertation, she will analyze the successes and failures of sex offender registration and notification policies, partly by looking at the perspectives of law enforcement officials who carry them out.
“I think it’s important to study it through their eyes, because we all know that there’s policy passed at the legislative level and policy as it’s enforced at ground level, and they’re not identical,” she says. “My dissertation will focus on the gray area between the two.”
In some ways, the research is an odd choice for Ann, who is cheerful and optimistic by nature. She says that dealing with policy, rather than sex offenders themselves, makes her work less stressful – as does the support she gets from faculty in the Ph.D. program and from her husband and family, as well as her sense of higher purpose.
“I don’t want a career just for myself,” she says, harking back to the theme of her 2015 speech. “I’m always very aware that not everyone gets the opportunities I have received, so I feel I need to turn around and do something positive with those opportunities.”