Monthly Archives: August 2009

like getting 15 yards for encroachment and only 5 for unecessary roughness

hochuliA recent AP article by Rachel Cohen compares the sentences of National Football League players Plaxico Burress, Donte’ Stallworth and Michael Vick.

Burress, the one-time Super Bowl star, accepted a plea bargain Thursday with a two-year prison sentence for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub. The former New York Giants wide receiver pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon… Stallworth, the Cleveland Browns receiver, served 30 days in jail for running over and killing a man while driving drunk. Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback who recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, served 18 months in prison for torturing animals and running a dogfighting ring for years.

Although people tend to rank the seriousness of crimes in roughly the same order, I’d wager that there is a higher-than-usual standard deviation around citizens’ preferred sentence lengths for these three offenses. Felony DUI manslaughter has been very lightly punished in the United States relative to, say, Sweden; folks disagree on whether animal cruelty and gambling conspiracy should be felonies or misdemeanors; and, Mr. Burress actually pled out to “attempted weapons possession in the second degree.” It is hard to say whether such a crime merits two years of hard time, though I generally favor vigorous enforcement of weapons offenses.

One can’t say for sure whether star athletes tend to get lighter sentences (ala Stallworth) or heavier sentences (ala Burress), but ol’ Ray Lewis seems to be rolling along just fine. The real punishment, of course, will be meted out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Commish can just toss a handful of grass into the air, check which way the wind is blowing, and determine whether Messrs. Burress, Vick, and Stallworth will be NFL princes or bounced-from-the-league paupers.

a life in the balance

i’ve written before about my inside student, philip scott cannon, an inmate at the oregon state penitentiary serving life without parole for murdering three people.  he has spent the last ten years in prison, watching his two sons grow up in the stifling visiting room of the prison, and losing everything he owned to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for his defense.

while he has maintained his innocence and served his prison sentence, the forensic evidence used to convict cannon has been discredited and dismissed as “junk science.”  bimla boyd, the star witness who testified against cannon, has gone on to serve a prison term for committing a different murder on the same property.  and new witnesses have come forward, disputing the timeline of the boyd’s account and placing her at the scene of the murders.

today, big news from the penitentiary: philip scott cannon’s conviction has been overturned.  i happened to be in the prison today to meet with students and i got to hear the news from philip in person.  he is no longer convicted, but he was still indicted on these charges and he will be transferred to the county jail to await a new trial.  i only hope the district attorney doesn’t keep him waiting in county jail – where his youngest son will not be allowed to visit him – for long.

philip’s case reminds me that justice is messy, very human, and sometimes mistaken.  i’m appalled it’s taken more than ten years for his conviction to be overturned, but relieved and glad that he’s getting a second chance to go to trial and have all of the evidence heard.  i do hope justice is ultimately served.

prisons, girls, and football

wfd_inside_gradafter a lengthy conversation with the dude handing out those nifty contexts guitar picks, i’ll break my blog silence by offering a quick update on how i spent my spring/summer non-vacation.  the basic overview is represented in the title to this post, which i realize sounds something like a bad b-movie.

prisons: i brought the inside-out program to another prison in oregon, teaching the first-ever class in the oregon state correctional institution this spring.  the class went well and the guys in OSCI are eagerly awaiting the next offering.  for the first six weeks of summer, i taught my seventh inside-out class in the oregon state penitentiary.  as part of the summer class, the students created their own blog, which they hope will build and grow as new classes are offered and new students add their own perspectives.

girls: from january through june, i taught a class once  a week for six months in our state’s juvenile correctional facility for young women.  i brought in about eight female OSU students each quarter and we held informal classes and discussions with six incarcerated young women.  one of their main goals/projects was to put on a women’s symposium for the entire institution.  my group of girls/young women planned and ran the events and workshops, raised money to bring in a pizza lunch, created a highly entertaining video of the OSU campus and experience, and brought in oregon state university’s first lady as our keynote speaker.  it was a wonderful event.  in addition, my spring-term delinquency class did a number of service-learning projects at the facility, including book clubs, art projects, and movie screening/discussions.  some of those projects, with kids in the community, were highlighted by our juvenile probation and parole department.

football: lastly, i just finished teaching a 3-week intensive social problems course to 32 freshmen football players in our BEST program, which offers a bridge to the college experience for incoming student-athletes.  while there are several summer sessions covering the majority of sports at OSU, i’ve worked exclusively with football players for the last three years and our numbers are growing like crazy.   they are  a great group of guys and i arranged field trips this year to a male juvenile correctional facility and to oregon state penitentiary, where they got an inside view of a maximum-security prison and then got the chance to meet and talk with some of my former inside-out students.  big impact.   it’s a vivid way for them to start their college careers and to step into the spotlight as athletes in the pac-10.

and now i’m ready for a vacation…hope everyone is enjoying what is left of their summer!

More on those bridges…

For more on sex offender laws and their unintended consequences, see the lead article in the Economist* this week. A nice analysis for the uninitiated and it makes a clear argument about how the breadth of these laws make us less safe — even better, they mention the work of our very own Chris Uggen.

*I reluctantly bought the Economist only because Contexts is unavailable at the airport.