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Prisons Research Centre



Tania is a third-year PhD student under the supervision of Loraine Gelsthorpe and Ben Crewe. 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 explores the role, function, and value of prison pen-pal relationships in prisoners' and community members' lives. Decades of criminological research suggest that maintaining social ties outside prison is essential for prisoners during and after incarceration. While prior research on prisoner social support has focused on in-prison visits from family, it is plausible other forms of communication and social connections can influence prisoners' incarceration experiences and post-release outcomes.

Organizations and websites, such as, allow incarcerated individuals to list a profile online in hopes of acquiring a pen-pal and developing platonic or romantic relationships with members of the public willing to exchange letters or emails with them. Tania conducted surveys and exchanged letters and emails with 45 prisoners in Illinois and California to explore the topic further. Additionally, she interviewed 14 prison pen-pals to explore community members' perspectives. Her qualitative study attempts to fill the gap on prison pen-pal relationships and non-familial support.

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


Other publications: 

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 Exploring inmates’ prison pen-pal soliciting profiles on (Unpublished master's thesis).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

PhD Student
 Tania  Mejia-O'Donnell
Not available for consultancy