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Legal scholar returns to alma mater to help lead ASU criminology

portrait of Hank Fradella
August 18, 2014

Hank Fradella is the new associate director of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Fradella had been a professor and director of the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Management at Long Beach State University.

“Rejoining ASU after 17 years is personally exciting to me,” says Fradella. “I’m glad to be back in Arizona.”

Fradella practiced law in Phoenix before embarking on a career as a university professor. He was writing legal opinions as a federal judicial law clerk in Phoenix when he decided to go back to school to earn a doctoral degree from the ASU School of Justice Studies on the Tempe campus.

“I just decided I know where I want my career to be, and I want it to be where I am doing research and working with students,” says Fradella, who earned his doctorate in 1997. “I love the teaching part and mentoring students.”

Mentoring a new generation of criminal justice leaders and scholars has been a focus of the school, and is what helped attract many of the program’s doctoral students. Fradella says that’s something he closely identifies with. When he was a doctoral student at ASU, he was mentored by criminology professor John Hepburn, who taught in the Justice Studies program.

“At the core of my being, I think the most important part of my identity as a professor is a mentor,” he says. “I think it is so important that we have excellence in the classroom in terms of effective teaching, and that we then go beyond that to mentor students into the profession to help them mature their own perspectives and skill sets so that they can be effective agents of change in the justice professions. And alternatively, mentor students well as researchers so they can be great graduate students. Then, mentor our graduate students to become great researchers and teachers.”

Research focus

As a researcher, Fradella is interested in the constitutional rights of the criminally accused. He also studies mental health law. Fradella is the coauthor of a new book, titled "Mental Illness and Crime." It provides a comprehensive look at the relationship between mental illness, psychiatric disorders and crime, including violent crime and other forms of antisocial behavior.

“What I’m particularly interested in is mental health law and how that plays out in the courts,” Fradella says. “So, mentally disordered criminal offenders, the insanity and diminished capacity defenses, and then what we do with mentally ill defendants after they are convicted.”

Fradella’s goal is to help prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges make better use of social science research to improve the criminal justice system.

As associate director of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Fradella says he hopes to recruit leading scholars to expand the faculty’s expertise into areas that could include substance abuse, forensic psychology and neuroscience to study the role the brain and behavioral genetics play in violence and crime.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring in some people in the next few years who will add synergy to an incredible program that already includes some of the nation’s greatest criminologists and the leading experts in courts, policing and corrections,” says Fradella.

Teachable moments

As an assistant professor of law and justice studies at the College of New Jersey, Fradella helped students understand a vicious hate crime that drew international attention. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, had been viciously beaten and left tied to a fence post on the outskirts of Laramie. He died days later. Two men were arrested and sentenced for his murder.

The sensational crime became a frequent topic in his classes. Fradella, who is gay, felt it was important to help students get past the stereotypical portrayal of gay men and women to better understand the issues involved.

“And I thought, 'This was a teachable moment,’” recalls Fradella. “I can help not only my LGBT students identify with someone, but perhaps more importantly, my straight students who thought, ‘Oh, that’s those people – they’re not in my life.’ Because we’re conditioned to be invisible. And so I made a very conscious decision to come out in my classroom – it made the front page of the school newspaper.”

Getting back to his roots

Returning to ASU is important to Fradella because he will no longer have to commute 400 miles to work. Fradella has lived in the Phoenix area for years. As a professor and director of the criminology program at Long Beach State, Fradella would leave his house in Cave Creek every Monday morning, fly to Southern California, then return late Thursday night. Now his commute will be much shorter – 25 miles.

That’s important to him. He has lots of family locally, and recently got married to an engineer who works for a Scottsdale technology company after a 10-year relationship. Fradella says he’s looking forward to more time with family.

“I love to cook,” says Fradella. “I am Italian and had the good fortune of being raised by my grandparents. Having been in my grandmother’s kitchen every night of childhood through the time I went away to college, I learned to make some really good Italian dishes.”

Fradella, who has many of his grandmother’s pots, pans and cooking utensils, says the creative process of cooking not only brings back wonderful childhood memories, but is also a very therapeutic way to escape the pressures of work.

Besides cooking, Fradella is an ardent movie buff, watching five to six movies a week. He is passionate about the arts, and is a singer whose repertoire ranges from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel to Guns and Roses.