Esther Matthews, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminology

Esther is a critical criminologist whose teaching and research focuses on punishment, incarceration, and reentry. She has conducted ethnographic investigations of prison life, including extended visits to several prison solitary confinement units designed...

Portrait of Esther Matthews, Ph.D.

Contact Information

  • Office Hours Fall 2022
    Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30-1:30 p.m., 3:30-4:40 virtual
    Wednesdays, 3-4 p.m.

  • (509) 313-5254

Education & Curriculum Vitae

B.S. in Political Science, Oregon State University, 2017

M.S. in Justice, Law and Criminology, American University, 2019

Ph.D. in Justice, Law and Criminology, American University, 2021



Esther is a critical criminologist whose teaching and research focuses on punishment, incarceration, and reentry. She has conducted ethnographic investigations of prison life, including extended visits to several prison solitary confinement units designed for individuals who experience mental health challenges. Esther has also evaluated various reentry programs designed to support people returning to their communities. Many of her research projects investigate the impact of peer support on desistance, self-identity, addiction recovery, and mental health.

Esther’s research has been featured in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation and the Washington Post, with several publications under review. One of her current projects includes an investigation into the reentry outcomes of individuals who had a life sentence commuted or overturned, with a special focus on access to physical and mental health care. Esther uses her lived experience in the criminal legal system, along with her academic training, to provide a rich, authentic, and humane understanding of the criminal legal system.