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.