Victims and Jenifer Bishop Jenkins

Jenifer Bishop Jenkins brought to light an often over looked issue in the criminal justice scene, that is how to deal with victims of violent crimes or extreme tragedy.  Jenkins showed how a victim can take on one of two roles.  One could choose to be extremely depressed, living in fear and only going through the motions of life.  Or, like Jenkins, one could choose the role of advocate, still at times being say but sharing their personal story in order to create awareness, doing so in memory of their lost loved one and others who may have come into the same end.  Jenkins has taken what has happened in her life and is trying to shed light on the subject of victims.  She has chosen to take the high road or as they say she has learned to make lemonade with what lemons life gave her.  During her speech for out class she did still  Continue reading


Darrell Cannon, Rip Van Winkle and Questions of Accountability

After spending 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Darrell Cannon became a free man, only to find his world completely changed. Despite being tortured and wrongfully imprisoned, Cannon was most upset about having lost many of his loved ones. “I lost everything,” he said, choking back on his tears. He had just recently put his sister to rest. It was as if Darrell Cannon had slept through a nightmare and woke up to find himself living through an actual nightmare. How would one react in this situation? With sadness? With anger? Cannon expressed both. And I would be lying if I didn’t say I expected him to forgive his torturers. But thinking back on his experiences now, I realize I was in the wrong in expecting him to be forgiving. He wasn’t in a deep slumber. He was beaten; severely enough to confess to something he did not do. And for taking the fall for someone else, he was imprisoned for 24 years, 9 of them served in a place where he felt insanity was imminent. Cannon lost everything; the people he loved are gone, and he can’t ever get them back.

What really struck me during Darrell’s lecture was the issue of accountability. Here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster:

the quality or state of being accountable ; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions <public officials lacking accountability>

We talked about accountability when we discussed the death of Timothy Souders in a Michigan correctional facility. Who was accountable for his death? Nobody was held accountable, and nobody took the responsibility for his death.

It’s pretty clear who was mostly accountable for the torture Darrell and others like him experienced. Or is it? Continue reading

Coerced Confessions

Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to hear Darrell Cannon speak in class.  However, the topic of coerced confessions has been of great interest to me since taking a course that covered issues related to Psychology and Law.  Through my internship this semester I am working with a White Paper written about this topic.  The paper is currently a draft, but it does an excellent job of covering the topic and offers recommendations to reform the process of interrogation.  If you go to the first link, you can find the paper.  I hope you guys enjoy this and it teaches you more about this topic.  For those of you who haven’t been exposed to the Reid technique of police interrogation, I would love to hear how this strikes you after reading the section regarding it.  This technique drives me crazy!!

The second link I have included will direct you to a webpage that connects you with the story of the first person ever to be exonerated by DNA evidence in 1989 here in Illinois.  I found this story to be rather insane as the woman who accused Gary Dotson completely made up a story of rape incase she became pregnant after having consensual sex with her boyfriend at the time.  She thought it would be better to make up this story and apparently put a man behind bars than face her parents with the news of being pregnant.  Wow!

Questions of bias

After reading all of these articles and essays from class, what I find interesting is that it usually plays up the sympathetic side of the prisoner. I find myself feeling bad for the prisoner, and yes, there is quite a lot of evidence that shows the injustice that they face. But I just wonder how I would feel if I read something from the point-of-view of a victim. For example, I read a story about a woman who murdered her mother-in-law, but the reason she was in prison was only briefly mentioned. Instead it described the horrible conditions she dealt with while in prison, and by the end I felt sorry for her. But imagine if I read about the same situation, except told through the eyes of someone in the victim’s family. I bet the murderer would come across as a monster, and I would believe it too.

This all just shows how influential the writing is on how you form your opinions. It is easy to feel connected to the side that is being victimized.  As of now, we are focusing more on the perspective of the prisoners, Continue reading

Academia inside Prison Walls

As criminal justice students, we often have few opportunities to read work by prisoners or ever hear what prisoners have to say about prison. What we are exposed to, however, are scholarly articles, written by academics, maybe with a little input from prisoners themselves but information gathered mostly from statistics and other quantitative research. I guess I speak for my fellow Criminal Justice students when I say that it is refreshing to hear what inmates themselves have to say, and not graduate students who have never experienced prison themselves, either through reading Stateville Speaks articles or perusing the work of Joe Dole, a current inmate who has conducted very in-depth research on the topic of recidivism.

When Joe’s research was handed to me last week in class, I (ashamedly) did not expect a high quality of work from an inmate. I was astounded. Joe’s work is very well written, cited properly, and uses reliable sources. Like a scholarly work, Joe utilized statistical information and existing qualitative research to support his argument. I am ashamed that I held certain presumptions before really looking at his work. I was under the assumption that I should not expect too much quality from his work as, from learning in my CJ courses, many inmates come from low-income areas, and often did not have access to good education. Not only does Dole make an argument to increase lifers’ access to parole, but he provides solutions to the problems of recidivism, and uses the information he compiled to create profiles of recidivists.

Though the research is quality work, I doubt that his paper will make its way into the classrooms and be regarded as “scholarly work.” I even wonder if correctional experts or sentencing panels would consult the research of a prisoner in their decision making. Nevertheless, I find it unfortunate that the work of Joe Dole and others like him goes unheard, despite the value in their first-hand experience of life behind bars.

Prisoner Art

As I walked through the Light from the Inside: Art From Illinois Prisons located within the Chicago Cultural Center, I couldn’t help being amazed by the creativity of the prisoners locked up within Illinois.  Not only would the artwork be phenomenal had someone else created it, but what really blew me away was the art supplies, or lack thereof, used to create the artwork.  Most inmates only have access to the inside part of the pen, the part that holds the ink.  Even with this limited tool, the artists still manage to do amazing shading and contrast.  The “paper” used is legal sized envelopes cut open to allow for more space, or file folders laid flat.  Inmates opting to use pieces of their bedsheets as canvas or bars of soap to make carvings are often written up for destruction of state property.  Color from candies and other foods is used to enhance the pictures as no other art supplies are allowed.  I don’t understand why, IDOC wouldn’t want to take advantage of this possible program to keep inmates entertained.  Why should inmates only be allowed to take part in art within their cells?  If we allowed inmates to have the proper supplies, to an extent, and a teacher to provide guidance for those wanting it, I think this would be a great program to have within prisons.  It would help the prisoners pass the time and provide them with a healthy activity that could be transfered to the outside world.  What do you guys think?

Why are prisons built far from large cities?

I noticed similarities between Kupers and Rhodes piece in how they both mentioned this idea of secrecy and extreme exclusion that the inmates suffer in solitary confinement.  I don’t think anyone is denying the extreme sense of exclusion and deprivation felt by inmates confined in solitary confinement, but the idea of secrecy is worthy of debate and has a history in the corrections setting. If you study the history of corrections, if was thought in the early 1900s that perhaps if we build prisons out in the country far removed from major cities that perhaps these rough and tough criminals will be exposed to nature and that wholesome country values will permeate their brains and perhaps aid in the rehabilitation.  Of course building prisons far away also had crime control in mind in the sense that prisoners who escape would have little around in the immediate surroundings to engage in criminal activity.  Kupers included this idea of secrecy to suggest that violations of rights may be occurring in these prisons, which are very possible; I just thought it was important to reflect on the historical implications of this sort of prison design. Unfortunately building prisons in this style seems to greatly hinder rehabilitation for the main reason of the difficulties low income families incur in having to travel a great distance to visit incarcerated family members.