Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve

Award-winning Criminal Justice Professor; Legal Commentator

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve is an Assistant Professor at Temple University in the Department of Criminal Justice with courtesy appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Beasley School of Law. She is the recipient of the 2014-2015 Ford Foundation Fellowship Postdoctoral Award and the 2015 New Scholar Award (co-winner) awarded by American Society of Criminology’s Division on People of Color and Crime. She is also an affiliated scholar with the American Bar Foundation. Her book, Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court, and her legal commentary have been featured on NBC News, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and CNN.  Her recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “Chicago’s Racist Cops and Racist Courts” shows the complicity of the criminal courts in the racist culture of policing and injustice in Chicago. She is is a sought-after speaker on racism in the criminal courts, police brutality, legal ethics, and first-generation college student issues.

Van Cleve received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University where she was a Legal Studies Fellow and received the Badesch Fellowship from Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice. Her research examines the cultural impact of mass incarceration on criminal justice apparatuses. She explores the contradictory ways that racial stigma is reproduced by these institutions in a purportedly, “colorblind” era. Her chapter, “Reinterpreting the Zealous Advocate: Multiple Intermediary Roles of the Criminal Defense Attorney” is in the book, Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making in Context (Leslie Levin and Lynn Mather eds., University of Chicago Press, 2011) and was the winner of the 2010 Outstanding Graduate Paper presented by the Sociology of Law Section of the American Sociological Association.

Prior to receiving her Ph.D., Van Cleve served in The Office of the Chief of Staff at the White House during the Clinton Administration and subsequently worked for five years as a Consumer Brand Planner for Leo Burnett, USA. She is the former Research Director for Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a policy/nonprofit organization that specialized in legal advocacy. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve is the current co-chair of Law and Society’s Collaborative Research Network on Critical Research on Race and the Law, a Junior Fellow of Yale University’s Urban Ethnography Project, and a member of the Racial Democracy, Crime and Justice Network (RDCJN).

Praise for Nicole Van Cleve’s Talks

“Nicole Van Cleve gave a very informative presentation at DePaul University College of Law. The event hosted by DePaul’s Journal for Social Justice attracted many students and lawyers from around the city of Chicago and inspired further discussion regarding injustices and racism that impact the courts and prisons in a very systematic way. I would highly encourage all to read Van Cleve’s book in order to learn from her vast experience and enlightening presentation of all she has learned through her work.”

—Annie Simunek, DePaul University College of Law Journal for Social Justice

“Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve was an engaging, dynamic and knowledgeable speaker who connected strongly with our students, faculty, staff and community. She was inspiring and everyone is still reflecting on what she taught us during her visit. ”

—Sameena A. Mulla, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Department of Social and Cultural Sciences, Marquette University

“Drawing on observational data and interviews, Nicole Van Cleve provided a compelling, informative, and moving account of the combined racial and class-based atrocities within Chicago’s criminal justice system. During her public presentation, she artfully wove in her own career trajectory and highlighted concrete ways to both make scholarship more accessible to the public and influence policymakers on important issues. Her presentation was equally insightful to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.”

—Dr. Teresa Gonzales, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology,

University of Massachusetts Lowell

“Dr. Gonzalez Van Cleve’s message resonated with our criminal justice students, faculty, and community members.  Her ability to navigate her viewers through an ethnographic journey that she began more than a decade ago was enlightening.  She framed her cautionary tale of Chicago’s Criminal Court system in such a way that the audience was left unpacking ‘doing justice’ in our own court system. She was able to tell a compelling story about her race research that is uncomfortable  but unnecessary to confront.  We would invite Dr. Gonzalez Van Cleve back to share her research on race and justice in the future.”

—Dr. Justin C. Medina, Dept. of Criminal Justice-Criminology at Lycoming College

Praise for Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court

“Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s account of the American criminal justice system, based on thousands of hours of careful observation behind the doors of the Cook County-Chicago courthouse, reveals the paradoxes and pain of our modern legal culture, including the effects on the punished and punishers alike. As Van Cleve’s investigation so startlingly lays bare, just because legal institutions profess to be colorblind does not make it so. Reading Crook County helps us see the difference.”

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

“Beautifully written and keenly insightful, Crook County is a horror story I couldn’t put down. May Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s masterful book do for the Chicago criminal court what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle did to the meat packing industry: clean it up. Powerful, disturbing and paradigm shifting, Crook County is ethnography at its best.”

—Paul Butler, Georgetown Law, author of The Chokehold: Policing Black Men

Crook County is a searing account of how criminal courts serve as the gateway to racialized punishment. Turning a spotlight on the everyday actions of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys, Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve reveals a court culture that dehumanizes and discriminates against defendants, victims, and family members. Her eye-opening analysis forces us to confront the possibility [or reality] that mass incarceration results from mass wrongful convictions of black and brown people forced into a devastating charade.”

—Dorothy Roberts, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and The Meaning of Liberty

“Urgent and important, Crook County is a powerful, eye-opening account of the code of the big-city court system. Carefully dissecting this crucial step of the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve illustrates just how the scales of justice are cynically stacked against black and brown inner-city young people, undermining their faith in our criminal justice system. Crook County is a must-read.”

—Elijah Anderson, Yale University, author of Code of the Street and The Cosmopolitan Canopy