Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

From Bernie Madoff to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The 'worst of the worst' and U.S. criminal justice policy

Colleen Eren
Free and open to the public

In 2009, amid the financial crisis which led to the longest recession since the Great Depression, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 150 years for his masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme in history. His crime shuttered philanthropies, resulting in 17 billion in losses. This lecture discusses the ways in which the Madoff case became a way in which the public could discuss—and punish—not only the crime of Madoff's individual Ponzi, but the unethical and criminal behavior which led to the financial crisis. It raises the perils of using a single case to remedy more systemic problems, including those found in U.S. capitalism. The lecture will furthermore discuss how using 'worst of the worst' examples—whether it is a financial crime such as Madoff's or violent crime such as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's—in order to set criminal justice policy ultimately prevents large-scale change to the vast social problem of over-incarceration.


Colleen Eren is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at William Paterson University and Program Director of their Criminology and Criminal Justice program. Her book, Bernie Madoff and the Crisis was published by Stanford University Press in 2017, and she is currently in contract for a second book with the Press which investigates criminal justice reform from a social movement perspective. She has over years of undergraduate teaching experience, including at Hunter College and Queens College. She maintains an active and varied scholarship with a focus on financial crime as well as on social movements in criminal justice. She also has a background in community organizing around criminal justice issues: For over five years she was Director of Organizing at New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which led a successful statewide campaign to keep capital punishment out of New York, and was a steering committee member of Amnesty's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. She is currently a member of the board for New Hour for Women and Children, a nonprofit which helps justice-impacted women returning home from prison and jail.


United States

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