Victims' rights advocate, governor aide honored by ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

A victim advocate and policy advisor to Gov. Katie Hobbs has received the Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award from the Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Kennesha Jackson, who graduated from ASU in 2012 with a Master of Science in criminology and criminal justice, was honored in a May 5 ceremony by school Director and Professor Beth Huebner.

Huebner said it was thrilling to present the Griffin award to Jackson.

“Kennesha represents the ideals of service leadership and community embeddedness that are integral to the Watts College mission. She has been a tireless advocate for individuals who have been victims of crime,” Huebner said. “We are excited to see all of what she accomplishes in her new role as part of Gov. Hobbs’ policy team.”

Jackson thanked her nominator, Professor Kate Fox, the school’s graduate program director, and expressed her gratitude for the award.

“I’m honored to be joining career professionals that have made a lasting impact and change in the advancement of criminal justice through their leadership,” Jackson said. “This award is a marker of where I have been and where I am going.”

In her nomination statement, Fox wrote that Jackson has not only represented the school well, “but has made significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements in the field of victims’ rights.”

The award honors alumni who have made “significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements as a practitioner in one of the justice professions.” The honor is named for Marie Griffin, a School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor who died in August 2016 at age 49. Griffin was one of the nation’s leading authorities on female corrections officers and the stresses they face, and taught courses on women and crime.

Jackson spent nearly 12 years with the Attorney General’s Office, the last nine as the state’s victims’ rights administrator. The U.S. Department of Justice presented the management team where Jackson served with the National Crime Victims’ Rights Award.

Since January, she has been advising the governor on public safety and military affairs policy.

Originally from California, Jackson moved to Arizona with her mother, a Phoenix native. She said her mother, a paraprofessional in the Roosevelt Elementary School District, envisioned her as the first in the family to attend and graduate from a four-year university.

Jackson had already earned college credits from Mesa Community College by the time she graduated from Tempe High School in 2006 at age 16.

Jackson earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from ASU. She became interested in crime news, specifically crime and victimization and its impact on individuals and communities, while earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism.

After covering a crime victim-related story in college, Jackson said she was eager to learn about the criminal justice system and the impact of crime on the victoms' lives. She earned a master’s degree from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where she quickly developed a passion for victim advocacy.

While in graduate school, Jackson served as a service aide for the Tempe Fire Department before she began work at the Attorney General’s Office upon receiving her master’s degree in 2012.

Read on to learn more about Jackson’s time at ASU and her contributions since.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Describe your work in victims' rights, and your most notable accomplishments while at the Attorney General’s Office.

Answer: While in graduate school my area of interest was victimology, and to gain practical experience in the field while earning my degree, I took the initiative to participate in an internship program. I was offered an internship with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of Victim Services (OVS). After more than a year of volunteering with the OVS, and upon completing my degree, I knew I wanted to help serve victims. I started my career as a systems-based victim advocate working directly with victims as their cases moved through the criminal justice system.

As a victim advocate, I gained ample exposure to victims’ rights by monitoring criminal cases through my direct involvement with case management in both the pre- and post-conviction phases and cases on appeal. I was then promoted to serve as the state victims’ rights administrator. 

The core of this position required a commitment to enhance the ability of governmental agencies to comply with victims' rights laws by establishing and administering a victims’ rights program to ensure services were being provided to crime victims and survivors in Arizona. This required reviewing agency policies and procedures, assisting agencies to institute best practices, and ensuring compliance and implementation with victims’ rights laws.

In this role, I’m proud to have contributed to the state’s history in serving victims and survivors of crime. As we look to a future of victim services that is more inclusive, accessible and trauma informed, I think it’s important to honor the strength and resilience of victims and their families as they journey through the criminal justice system.

Q: Today, you advise Gov. Katie Hobbs in military affairs and public safety. What does that involve? How would the public recognize results of the work you do?

A: From starting my career as a direct service provider to administering programs and now serving as a policy advisor, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to continue to work on the safety and security of Arizonans. Public service is selfless work, and each day I’m reminded that it is truly about the incremental steps taken to improve Arizona and its residents. While this chapter of my career is still being written, I will continue to bring lasting, positive change to the lives of people across the state. I’m humbled and honored to work on behalf of the Hobbs administration, helping to build policy and creating a safer Arizona.

Q: Tell us how your academic experience at ASU earning your master's degree in criminology and criminal justice prepared you for your recent positions.

A: The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice has provided me with the foundation and building blocks for my career. I often rely on the skills learned while earning my degree, including participating in an internship program. Now that I’m an ASU alum, I am constantly reminded that I have access to a community of experts anywhere I go. Together, we are creating solutions and advancing public safety priorities in the state and across the world.

Q: Explain what being honored with the Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award means to you.

A: As I’ve mentioned before, public service is selfless work, and I’m honored to receive this award as I embark on a milestone in my career. Without hesitation, I’m always a proud graduate of ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Q: What advice would you give a student considering or starting studies toward a degree in criminology and criminal justice?

A: Criminal justice is a broad field that encompasses diverse career paths and opportunities. Participating in an internship program will allow students to tailor their studies toward their interests and professional goals. I wouldn’t be this far in my career had I not taken that first step to gain practical experience while earning my degree.

The key is to remember that ASU is just the beginning, and that you are joining a community that requires you to be a lifelong learner in order to continue to advance the safety and security of Arizonans.

Mark J. Scarp