VCU criminologist is helping develop a worldwide approach to ethics education

A man stands in front of a desk in an office.
Jay Albanese is among a group of experts from 30 countries developing curriculum on crime and justice-related topics for instructors across the world. (Photo courtesy of L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs)

A street vendor is selling a counterfeit designer handbag at an amazing price. What’s the harm in buying one and saving hundreds of dollars?

Lots, according to Jay Albanese, Ph.D., a renowned criminologist and professor of criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“The result of you buying the bag is you’re supporting the criminal enterprise that manufactured it, the profits of which go to the further enslavement of workers, intellectual property theft against the legitimate bag maker, and money laundering through other countries,” Albanese said.

“This relatively inconspicuous act of buying a counterfeit bag has large consequences that in fact are global,” he said. “Citizens often participate in organized crime without knowing what they’re doing. Without better education, people don’t realize that these smaller acts result in larger harms.”

Citizens often participate in organized crime without knowing what they’re doing.

Educating people about ethics — what’s right and what’s wrong — lies at the heart of a global project in which Albanese has been actively involved.

Through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Education for Justice initiative, Albanese is among experts from 30 countries, and the only American, developing a global open-access curriculum on crime and justice-related topics for instructors around the world. He was the principal drafter of the course modules on organized crime and served as a reviewer for the course modules on integrity and ethics.

“Dr. Albanese was selected to participate in this project because of his vast knowledge and expertise on organized crime, as well as his ability to convey such knowledge in a manner that is simple and understandable, even to those professors and students less familiar with this area of study,” said Flavia Romiti, associate crime prevention and criminal justice officer at UNODC.

“During the coming months, his expertise, as well as his oratory skills, will be sought for the presentation of the material to the academic community around the globe,” Romiti said.

Ultimately, the curriculum will be available for open-access use by instructors and students around the world, and will be available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

“The idea is to keep the accessibility as open as possible. All you need is an internet connection,” Albanese said. “We’re trying to raise the level of awareness and the level of seriousness of these issues by not putting up barriers. We hope these will be the most-used source materials in the world once they’re available.”

Watch the U.N. videos featuring Jay Albanese at

The initiative seeks to prevent crime and promote a culture of lawfulness through education activities designed for all students, from grade school through university. Albanese has appeared in several U.N. videos about the project.

Albanese plans to incorporate the modules into his classes at the Wilder School, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, including organized crime and professional ethics.

Albanese is a leading scholar in transnational and organized crime and corruption. He is the author of 20 books, including a leading text in the field, “Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One is Looking.”

“Ethics is the most fundamental problem on the planet,” Albanese said. “How do people make decisions that exploit others? Until we have people making decisions that are not in their own self-interest, we will continue to have conflicts, political upheaval, irregular immigration and economic suffering. All the big issues that anybody cares about are ultimately ethical issues.”