An Illustrious Career

Spotlight on Criminal Justice Chair and Professor Jacqueline Helfgott

Written by Tina Potterf
Photography by SU Magazine and illustrations by Jacqueline Helfgott
May 7, 2013
Jacqueline Helfgott, PhD, teaches classes with names such as “The Psychopath” and “Murder Movies and Copycat Crime.” In her spare time, which is at a premium, she sketches—people, places, things—as a member of Urban Sketchers Seattle and runs marathons.

Even with all of this going on, her main focus is her scholarly work: she is a frequent guest to lecture at prestigious conferences throughout the United States and internationally, a published author and an expert witness called upon to speak about criminal behavior and the ability of criminal justice agencies to predict dangerousness and supervise and manage ex-offenders for court cases.

As chair and professor of Seattle University’s criminal justice department, Helfgott also has longstanding connection to the Seattle Police Department and the local criminal justice community. A participant in the recent Seattle Police Consortium, Helfgott has also served on the Governor elect’s Justice Advisory Board and has been involved in collaborative projects with faculty and students in the Criminal Justice Department involving policing practices including a study of police interactions with the mentally ill.

A 1988 graduate of the University of Washington, Helfgott earned her master’s and PhD from Penn State University. She is the author of books including Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies and Criminal Justice, Criminal Psychology, Volumes 1-4 and Offender Reentry: Beyond Crime and Punishment, co-authored with Elaine Gunnison, associate professor and director of the graduate program in criminal justice. With this latest book, out this fall, the authors provide a comprehensive exploration of the core issues around offender reentry highlighting the tension between reintegration, stigma of a criminal record and public safety. The book features success stories and views and perspectives of community corrections officers and ex-offenders.

While Helfgott has established herself as a force in the criminal justice world, what some may not know about her is that she started out in college as an art major. Her plan shifted when she began taking courses in psychology, criminology and criminal justice—she even toured Walla Walla Penitentiary—and decided to switch majors to psychology and society and justice. However in graduate school at Penn State, she was able to combine art with criminal justice when the criminal justice professor she worked for as a teaching and research assistant told her that his wife, an art professor at Penn State, was looking for someone to teach art classes for the Pennsylvania Prison Society at the Bellefonte County Jail. She volunteered and facilitated art classes at the jail.

The experience provided the spark that ignited her interest in bringing art into Washington prisons when she moved back to Seattle in the early 1990s through a program she developed and coordinated at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) and Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) called the “Creative Expressions Project.”

The program, which ran weekly at the women’s prison from 1993–97 and at WSR from 1993–2010, involved prisoners in creative projects including publication of seven volumes of a ‘zine, Sounds of a Grey Metal Day, creation of one of the Pike Place Market’s “Pigs on Parade,” several Metro bus stop murals, children’s murals for the YMCA and more.

Last summer Helfgott designed a course called “Restorative Justice Behind Bars,” which she co-taught with Associate Professor of Sociology Madeline Lovell that involved Seattle University graduate students taking a class at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County with University Beyond Bars prisoner-students. The students worked in groups to develop proposals for ways to implement restorative principles within the adversarial criminal justice system and prison subculture.

“This is a very engaged class and it gets them thinking about ways to apply restorative justice to their work,” she says. This will be offered in the future as a new Core course that will be co-presented as a special topics elective for criminal justice undergrad and grad students.

In her downtime Helfgott puts sneaker to pavement for long distance runs. In the past four years she’s participated in 10 full marathons—and many half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks—with plans to run in the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and New York City Marathon later this year.

She also indulges in her other passion: sketching. She takes her sketchbook with her everywhere and participates with the Urban Sketchers Seattle’s monthly sketch crawl outings.

Check out her some of her work at the Urban Sketchers Seattle blog.
Jacqueline Helfgott is an accomplished sketch artist. Here is one of her sketches of a section of a library full of criminal justice-related books.
The artist's rendering of the entrance of the Monroe Correctional Facility, northeast of Seattle.
Professor Helfgott's artistic take on Tubs, a former store in the University District that has been transformed into a public art piece.