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Institute of Criminology



Tania is a first year PhD student under the supervision of Ben Crewe and Loraine Gelsthorpe. She received her BA in Communication and Social Advocacy from Humboldt State University and her MS in Criminal Justice and Criminology from San Diego State University. Tania has worked with justice-involved individuals through yoga, correspondence, education, employment, community supervision, and pretrial services and programs. Tania is known for advocating reintegration through letter writing programs and delivered a TEDx talk on “Mindfulness Behind Bars.”


Tania’s research aims to explore prison pen-palling relationships and the value of letters in correctional settings. Decades of criminological research suggest that maintaining social relationships outside of prison is crucial for prisoners during and after their incarceration. While most prior research on prisoner social support and ties has focused on in-prison visits from family and friends, other forms of communication may also influence their incarceration experiences and post-release outcomes.

Organizations and websites, such as, give people in prison the opportunity to list a profile online in hopes of acquiring a pen-pal, a new friend, and a connection to the outside world. Public websites like these give anybody with internet access and interest in corresponding with a prisoner the opportunity to send a letter. Despite the potential impact of prison pen-palling, there is a lack of research about the exchange of letters between people in prison and individuals not known to them prior to their incarceration. Using surveys and interviews with prisoners in California, her qualitative study will attempt to fill the gap by exploring inmates pen-pal experiences. Tania is interested in what role support from a stranger can have on prisoners’ incarceration experiences, cognitive transformations, identity changes, rehabilitation, and wellbeing.

Tania’s research interests include prisons, reentry, parole, desistance, and social support.


Key publications: 

Mejia-O’Donnell, T. M. (2019). Exploring inmates’ prison pen-pal soliciting profiles on (Unpublished master's thesis). San Diego State University. doi:

Thesis Title: Prison pen-pals: The value of correspondence from laypeople
 Tania  Mejia-O'Donnell