Alida Merlo

Alida Merlo, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Distinguished University Professor and professor of criminology and criminal justice, is the 2024 recipient of the Bruce Smith, Sr. Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Science.

This award, which honors highly regarded scholars in criminology, is the highest recognition offered by this international association. ACJS was established in 1963 to foster professional and scholarly activities in the field of criminal justice and promotes criminal justice education, research, and policy analysis within the discipline of criminal justice for scholars who are international in scope and multidisciplinary in orientation, professionals from all sectors of the criminal justice system, and students seeking to explore the criminal justice field as future scholars or practitioners.

The Bruce Smith, Sr. Award was first presented in 1976 to Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Thorstein Sellin, highly regarded scholars in criminology; only one person is selected for this annual award, which is named in honor of police scholar Bruce Smith, Sr. (1892–1955).

It is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to criminal justice as an academic or professional endeavor and active involvement in criminal justice or other endeavors which have made substantial contributions to the emerging body of knowledge in criminal justice. Award recipients are invited to attend the ACJS annual meeting and to make a presentation on their research at that meeting.

Merlo is only the second woman in the history of ACJS to have received all three of the top ACJS awards: the Bruce Smith, Sr. Award, the Founder’s Award, and the Fellow Award. She also has also been honored with the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award and the Academy’s Minorities and Women’s Section Coramae Richey Mann Leadership Award. She was elected to serve as president of the ACJS for 1999 to 2000, only the third woman to be elected to the position.

“I am honored to be the ACJS 2024 Bruce Smith Award recipient,” Merlo said. “The Academy has been an important part of my professional life. The organization and its annual meetings provide unparalleled opportunities for research, collegiality, and networking.”

Merlo joined the IUP community in 1995 as a faculty member and was promoted to the rank of professor in 1999. She served as coordinator of the graduate program in criminology at IUP’s Pittsburgh East center from 1995 to 2002 and from 2007 to 2012. She came to IUP from Westfield State College in Massachusetts. Prior to becoming a faculty member there, she worked in the Mahoning County Juvenile Court in Youngstown, Ohio.

During her tenure as Distinguished University Professor, Merlo conducted research to assess educational programs offered for delinquent youth, and to explore implications of the 2019 legislation that authorized trauma-informed education in Pennsylvania public schools.

In 49 years as a faculty member (29 of them at IUP), Merlo has taught more than 5,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She also administers the department’s internship program, including researching and identifying new placement opportunities.

Merlo is the doctoral program coordinator, and she has chaired and served on numerous dissertation committees at IUP. She was active with the university’s McNair Scholars program. She has been involved in IUP’s Scholars Forum as a judge for student posters and presentations since 2011.

In addition to her Distinguished University Professor recognition (which recipients hold for life), she received the 2017 College of Health and Human Services Outstanding Senior Researcher Award, the Dean’s Outstanding Researcher Award for the College of Health and Human Services, the 2014 College of Health and Human Services Outstanding Teacher Award, and the 1997–98 University Senate Research Award for Student/Faculty Research. Merlo was inducted into IUP’s Phi Kappa Phi chapter in 1998.

Two former IUP graduate students who became faculty members in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Slippery Rock University established an award in her honor, the Alida V. Merlo Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award, which is presented annually at Slippery Rock University.

Merlo gave the keynote address at the Southern Criminal Justice Association's fiftieth anniversary meeting in 2022, the Colorado State University Sociology-in-Progress Colloquium Series Lecture in 2019, the Department of Criminal Justice Graduate Lecture at Northern Colorado University, the University of Southern Indiana College of Liberal Arts 2018 Distinguished Scholar Lecture, and the Virginia Commonwealth University L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs 2015 Distinguished Scholar Lecture.

Merlo’s writing—which includes 10 co-authored or co-edited books, 22 book chapters, 37 journal articles, 20 invited lectures. and more than 125 conference presentations—examines and assesses the transformation of the juvenile justice system and criminal justice policy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with an emphasis on the role of media, ideology, and politics. These works have elevated the level of discourse and influenced the field.

Her books include The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing and the Law (2019), ninth edition, co-authored with Peter J. Benekos; Reaffirming Juvenile Justice: From Gault to Montgomery (2017); Controversies in Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (2009) second edition, co-edited with Peter J. Benekos; Crime Control, Politics, and Policy (2006), second edition, co-edited with Peter J. Benekos; and Women, Law, and Social Control (2006), second edition,  co-edited with Joycelyn M. Pollock.

Since 2015, she also co-authored four book chapters and 14 articles that appeared in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education, Journal of Family Violence, Journal of Drug Issues, Criminal Justice Policy Review, Trauma, Violence & Abuse, Victims & Offenders, Women & Criminal Justice, Police Practice and Research, Asian Journal of Criminology, and The Prison Journal.

Merlo serves on the editorial boards of Crime and Delinquency and Women & Criminal Justice.

She was interviewed for the national Oral History of Criminology Project, which preserves and shares the accounts of prominent scholars of their role in shaping the evolution of the field.

As chair of the Speakers’ Committee for her department, she coordinates bringing distinguished academics in the field to IUP to strengthen the reputation of the university and department while enriching the lives of students. She also coordinates the Department’s Alumni Career Panel. Since 1997, she has served as chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy Qualifier Committee, which creates, develops, and grades qualifier exams that are administered twice a year.

She earned a PhD in sociology from Fordham University, a master of science degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Youngstown State University.