Faculty Focus: Dragana Derlic

Dr. Dragana Derlic, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, hold a B.S. in Criminal Justice and an M.S. in Criminal Justice, Both from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and a PhD in Criminology, from The University of Texas at Dallas.

What led you to being a professor?

After receiving my bachelors, I decided that working within the Criminal Justice field really wasn’t for me and that I wanted to do more.

So, I went and got my Master’s in Criminal Justice thinking it would open more opportunities for me in the long run. During my masters, I realized I really loved academia, loved the opportunity to read, write, learn, and really to think, the opportunity to ask questions, to discuss ideas, and to collaborate with other people.

And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could get paid to think?

This led me to consider a PhD with the idea that I would be able to spend the rest of my life in school, learning and growing. It was really the never-ending pursuit of knowledge that kept me going and that keeps me going today. There is always something to learn, it is never a dull moment.

What are your favorite research topics and why do they interest you?

My favorite research topic is Offender Rehabilitation.

I think we spend a lot of time looking at crime that people commit and why they commit them, but we don’t spend nearly enough time trying to understand these people, what led them to commit crime, let alone trying to help them improve their lives and their behavior.

People who are incarcerated are often times forgotten about, but if we can play with the idea that 99% of these people will come back out into our communities as some point in time, we may be able to play with the idea that they need our help, that we are the only ones who can help them, and without us (without friends, family, community support, and resources) they will be back out in our communities doing the same thing that led them to jail/prison in the first place.

They need help, they are crying out for help, the least we can do is try to help them with all resource that we have. They deserve that, and we deserve that as a society.

I am a firm believer that people are not born criminals, instead their environment and life events place pressures on them that they may not be able to handle. We are not all equipped with the same self-control, mental capacity, emotional regularity, the sooner we understand that—the sooner we can understand people who have made mistakes.

What was your favorite research project you’ve done and what you thought was the coolest/most interesting aspect of it.

My favorite research project was my dissertation. One, it solidified my PhD and tied the note to that journey (I am so grateful!). Two, it gave me the opportunity to really study what I love and am so passionate about (Trauma-Informed Yoga). I am a huge advocate for mental health, especially for those who are incarcerated because majority of them suffer from mental health issues and have never and probably will never receive the medical attention that they need.

I find that with the practice of trauma-informed yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, even those who are incarcerated can find some peace and even in such a cold place like jail/prison.

I enjoyed this project because it gave me the opportunity to be authentic in my research, it highlighted the potential of Trauma-Informed Yoga on those incarcerated, and importantly paved the way for my specialty within the Criminal Justice & Criminology field.

My findings shined like on the ability of such programs (like Trauma-Informed Yoga) to help those who are incarcerated and really to offer them a tool kit that they can use whenever and wherever they need it.

What’s the top thing you’ve learned through your research, thus far that you want to share with students?

I have a niche area of research that often gets unnoticed or skipped over, in fact, the first year or so—it got laughed at.

At first it bothered me but overtime I have realized that people can only understand to their level of knowledge and perception and it’s my job to teach them the things that they do not know. It is my job to find ways in which I can explain to them why my research and subject area matter. And I am doing just that.

What I would want to share with my students is that: not everyone has to agree with what you are doing, not everyone has to support what you are doing, it is not their job to do that—it is your job to do that. Do what you love, what you believe in, and what makes you, YOU!

I like to consider myself somewhat of a pioneer in rehabilitation research especially when it comes to alternative methods of rehabilitation like that of trauma-informed yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. That is my strength! The opportunity that I have.

Additional works:

Journal of Correctional Health Care (Derlic, 2020)
Journal of Applied Juvenile Justice Services (Derlic & McKenna, 2021)
Journal of Correctional Health Care (forthcoming, Derlic, 2021)

International Criminology Newsletter
Untenured Tracks Podcast