Heith Copes

Heith Copes

Professor; Director of CJ Honors Program
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(205) 934-2069
UBOB 315

Research Interests: Criminal decision-making, identity and crime, qualitative research methods

Office Hours: T/W/TH 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.; or by appointment

  • Ph.D., University of Tennessee

I am a sociologist by training; however, my academic focus in on studying those who engage in crime and drug use. My research, while diverse, falls within two primary areas: criminal decision-making and narrative sense making. One thread that ties these two bodies of research together is the use of qualitative methods. Interviewing is my primary methodological strategy and I have published both substantive topics using the method and articles about the method.

A large portion of my research addresses the criminal decision-making strategies of offenders of various types. I have interviewed carjackers, auto thieves, identity thieves, bar fighters, meth cooks, and drug users. My research in this area addresses such issues as motivations for committing their crimes, pathways into crime, techniques to enact the crime, and strategies to minimize risk. One of my larger contributions of this research is on how various aspects of decision-making (e.g., excuse making, risk reduction, social connections) contributes to offenders prolonging their criminal careers.

My other primary area of research involves understanding the ways that offenders make sense of their lives and crimes. This includes how they excuse and justify their crimes and how they construct social identities. My larger contributions of this line of research have been on elaborating on the identity boundaries people create to portray themselves as being “not that bad” when compared to other offenders. For example, my research shows how drug users (e.g., crack users and meth users) see themselves as being different from “dysfunctional” users. By maintaining their looks, family relations, and mental states they can show how they are not like a typical crack head or meth head.

In addition to research, a large portion of my time is devoted to teaching. I teach various classes but most often I teach criminological theory and patterns in crime. It is in these classes that I am best able to bring in my own research to make the material easier to understand for students. Since coming to UAB I have been fortunate to win several teaching awards, including the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship.

Download Curriculum Vitae

  • Recent Courses
    • Criminology
    • Patterns in Crime
  • Select Publications
    • Heith Copes and J. Mitchell Miller, eds. Routledge Handbook of Qualitative Criminology. (Routledge, 2015).
    • Heith Copes and Lynne Vieraitis, Identity Thieves: Motives and Methods (Northeastern University Press, 2012).
    • Lindsay Leban, Stephanie Cardwell, Heith Copes, and Timothy Brezina, “Adapting to Prison Life: A Qualitative Examination of the Coping Process among Incarcerated Offenders,” Justice Quarterly (In Press). doi:10.1080/07418825.2015.1012096
    • Heith Copes and Jared Ragland, “Photographs as Implicit Narratives,” Crime Media Culture (In Press).
    • Heith Copes, Lindsay Leban, Kent Kerley, and Jessica Deitzer, “Identities, Boundaries, and Accounts of Women Methamphetamine Users,” Justice Quarterly 33 (2016): 134-158.
    • Sveinung Sandberg, Sébastien Tutenges, and Heith Copes, “Stories of Violence: A Narrative Criminological Study of Ambiguity,” British Journal of Criminology 55 (2015): 1168-1186.
    • Bruce Jacobs and Heith Copes, “Neutralization Without Drift: Criminal Commitment and Carjacking.” British Journal of Criminology 55 (2015): 286-302.
    • Kent Kerley, Heith Copes, and Hayden Griffin, “Middle-class Motives for Non-Medical Prescription Stimulant Use among College Students,” Deviant Behavior 36 (2015): 589-603.
    • Stephanie Cardwell, Alex Piquero, Wesley Jennings, Heith Copes, Carol Schubert, and Edward Mulvey, “Variability in Moral Disengagement and its Relation to Offending in a Sample of Serious Youthful Offenders,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 42 (2015): 819-839. doi:10.1177/0093854814567472
    • Heith Copes, Andy Hochstetler, and Sveinung Sandberg, “Using a Narrative Framework to Understand the Drugs and Violence Nexus,” Criminal Justice Review 40 (2015): 32-46. DOI:10.1177/0734016814560436
    See more publications at Google Scholar and Research Gate.
  • Academic Distinctions & Professional Memberships
    • Book Review Editor, Journal of Criminal Justice Education
    • President, Southern Criminal Justice Association
    • 2nd Vice President, Southern Criminal Justice Association