Alysha McDonald

Alysha McDonald (She/Her)
PhD Student
Department of Sociology, McMaster University

Current Research Project:

The carceral continuum: Exploring the carceral experiences of individuals convicted of sexual offences and their impact on identity, reintegration, and movements towards desistance

My research interests lie in criminology and the Sociology of Crime and Deviance. I focus on prison research, and how the carceral experiences of individuals convicted of sexual offences (ICSOs) impacts their identity and their movements towards desistance post-release. I ask: (1) How do the carceral experiences of ICSOs influence their perceptions of self, labeling, and expectations of (or previous experiences with) reintegration and desistance?, and; (2) How do ICSOs’ carceral experiences differ depending on status characteristics – i.e., race, ethnicity, Indigenous status, social class, and geography (urban/rural)?

I am using a qualitative interviewing method and survey data rooted in a grounded theory approach to understand the lives of incarcerated people and prisons impact on identity processes. In conducting qualitative interviews with incarcerated ICSOs, my proposed study aims to fill gaps in criminological and sociological literature by exploring how the carceral experiences of ICSOs impact their identities and how this influences their perceptions of (or, for some, previous experiences with) reintegration. By analyzing the interactional impact of ICSOs’ status characteristics, my study will also examine how social positionality affects incarceration and expectations of reentry.

The goal of this research is to inform public health and safety by elucidating how ICSOs’ carceral experiences contribute to their expectations and experiences of reentry, which is found to affect rates of reoffence. I aim to yield data that can reform evidence-based policies, improve the lives of ICSOs, and make communities safer by shedding light on movements towards desistance among this population. This may include informing the effectiveness of prison rehabilitation programs, thereby fostering desistance and lowering risks of sexual reoffence among this population – a goal that ICSOs, communities, and other stakeholders have a vested interest in securing.

What motivated you to pursue this project and what have been your challenges?

I have always been interested in criminology and the Sociology of Crime and Deviance. As an undergraduate, I studied Social Psychology where I became interested in processes of identity negotiation across time. In the Winter of 2019, I was a TA for a second-year criminology course at McMaster University and became intrigued with processes of State-sanctioned punishment and surveillance in the prison setting, its intersection with social inequalities, and its impact on identity processes. After completing my master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and working as a research assistant with the University of Alberta Prison Project, I focused my passion on understanding about the lived experiences of those who are currently incarcerated or who have experienced incarceration and its impacts on their identity. The aim of my research is to improve the lives of individuals and communities by contributing to evidence-based reforms that assist incarcerated people during their sentence and post-release as they move towards desistance.

Where do you see your project having the most impact?

In addition to contributing to theoretical and methodological literature at the intersection of criminology and sociological social psychology, I see this research having a significant impact on communities, as it aims to contribute to public health and safety through evidence-based reforms that seek to lower risks of sexual reoffence. I also see this research positively impacting the lives of those convicted of sexual offences by providing them with a rare opportunity to reflect on their ongoing carceral experiences and potentially improve their access to services that aid in the prevention of sexual reoffence. This research also impacts criminal justice institutions by shedding light on sexual reoffence with the goal of improving community safety. This may include informing the effectiveness of prison rehabilitation programs include the High and Moderate Intensity National Sex Offender Program, the National Sex Offender Maintenance Program, and the Tupiq program.

What advice do you have for other graduate students?

Be reflexive in your research and its aims, seek to constantly improve, and always go after what you’re most passionate about!


Berardi, Luca. & McDonald, Alysha. 2021.“Sex Offenders and Prison Violence.” Learning Series,  Maskwacis Cultural College (Virtual Presentation)

McDonald, Alysha., Berardi, Luca., Bucerius, Sandra., and Haggerty, Kevin. Submitted. “More of the same, only worse: COVID and the administrative burdens facing loved ones of incarcerated men.” British Journal of Criminology (40 pages).


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