Carla’s early interests in the challenges faced by urban youth led her to investigate the ways in which urban young people encounter structures of social control, namely juvenile and criminal justice systems. Her early research focused on the criminal prosecution of adolescents in New York City. This lead to an exploration of the efficacy of Alternative to Incarceration programs and problem-solving courts. Carla continues to be interested in the ways youth are criminalized and the impact of criminal justice policies on court-involved youth, particularly young men of color. Carla is a fierce advocate for reform of juvenile and criminal justice policies and practices, and for practices that help 'humanize' justice systems. Carla has always been interested in the "law in action" and in how court workers go about the day to day application of law within criminal court case processing and how they explain what they do. Recently, Carla has been focusing her case processing research on mass misdemeanors, specifically misdemeanor adjudication and plea bargaining.
In June 2019, Carla became the Academic Director for John Jay's Prison-to-College Pipeline program (an initiative of John Jay's Prisoner Reentry Institute), which provides credit-bearing college classes at the Otisville Correctional Facility.
Carla's book, Courting Kids: Inside an Experimental Youth Court, (NYU Press, 2013) is based on fieldwork in the Manhattan Youth Part, a specialized criminal court set aside for youth (under 16) required by New York State law to be prosecuted as adults. Courting Kids focuses on the lives of those coming through and working in the courtroom, reflecting the costs, challenges, and consequences the “tough on crime” age has had, especially of young men of color. A study of the law in action, the book also shows how the court developed a humanizing model for youth justice designed to counteract the intent of harsh juvenile justice legislation.
"In detailing the work of the Manhattan Youth Part in her new ethnography, Barrett offers a deeply sympathetic and humanizing look into the lives of the juvenile offenders charged as adults, as well as a rich, sociological account of how one criminal court room continues to treat kids like kids in the face of highly punitive transfer laws." —Punishment & Society
“This insightful ethnography tells a compelling story of injustice, humanity, and suffering—of a judge’s struggle to do right despite challenging circumstances—and in the process offers a powerful critique against transfer to criminal court.” —Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security
“An impressive and important book. Meticulously researched and well written the book offers an insightful account of the way one court adapted to the legal effort to try juvenile offenders as adults.” —Austin Sarat, author of Life without Parole
Barrett, C. J. & Welsh, M. (2018). Petty Crimes and Harassment: How Community Residents Understand Low-Level Enforcement in Three High-Crime Neighborhoods in New York City. Qualitative Sociology, 41(2). Special Issue: Ethnographies of Security.
Barrett, C. J. (2017). Adjudicating “Broken Windows:” A Qualitative Inquiry of Misdemeanor Case Processing in the New York City Criminal Courts. Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society, 18(2).
Barrett, C. J. (2017). Mindfulness and Rehabilitation: Teaching Yoga and Meditation to Young Men in an Alternative to Incarceration Program. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(15), 1719-1738. (first published online: February 22, 2016).
(2018) Barrett, C. J. "Doing Court Ethnography: How I Learned to Study the Law in Action" in Using Ethnography in Criminology, edited by Michael Maltz and Stephen Rice. Springer.
Barrett, C. J. (2015). “‘I Feel Mad Light’: Sharing Mindfulness–Based Strategies with Troubled Youth” in Alternative Offender Rehabilitation and Social Justice: Arts & Physical Engagement in Criminal Justice and Community Settings, edited by Janelle Joseph and Wesley Crichlow. Palgrave MacMillan. Link
Barrett, C. (Spring 2015). “Critical Teaching: Reflections on a Day of Teaching Precariously.” The Critical Criminologist, 5(23). (Spring 2015 Newsletter of the Division on Critical Criminology, American Society of Criminology).
Barrett, C. (2014). “Waiver/transfer to adult court.” In Arrigo, B. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice Ethics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Barrett, C. (2014). “Juveniles in adult court.” In Arrigo, B. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice Ethics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Carla has published an article "Adjudicating 'Broken Windows:' A Qualitative Inquiry of Misdemeanor Case Processing in the New York City Criminal Courts" in Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society, based on open-ended interviews with judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors in New York City. This research examined how court actors describe common practices in the day-to-day processing of misdemeanors. These narratives reveal the various factors that inform the ways court actors navigate the terrain of misdemeanor case processing and how they articulate “things that matter” in the face of massive caseloads, providing useful insights into the adjudication of mass misdemeanors.
Carla has also recently published, along with Megan Welsh, an article "Petty Crime and Harrasssment: How Community Presidents Understand Low-Level Enforcement in Three High-Crime Neighborhoods in New York City" in Qualitative Sociology, based on a focus group study examining how residents of three high-crime communities in NYC understand “quality of life” policing tactics and their impacts on police-community relations. Focus groups were conducted with Black and/or Latino males ages 16-20, and with adult neighborhood residents over age 30 who had lived in the community for at least 10 years. We examined how these residents express concerns related to low-level enforcement actions in their communities and the concomitant issues of the over-policing of young men of color, the under-policing of what residents understand to be the primary threats to their personal safety, and the perceived lack of police accountability.
In addition, Carla has a chapter, "Doing Court Ethnography: How I Learned to Study the Law in Action" in Using Ethnography in Criminology, edited by Michael Maltz and Stephen Rice. Springer. 2018.