Author Archives: Candace Smith

The George Zimmerman Case: What Role Did Race Play?

George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin  Source: CBS/AP

George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin
Source: CBS/AP

Last Saturday, George Zimmerman was acquitted of all state charges related to the death of Trayvon Martin. This marks the latest development in a saga that began on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. On that night, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, fatally shot Martin after an altercation. Before shooting the teenager, Zimmerman had called the Sanford Police Department from his car to report that Martin was acting suspiciously. While speaking to 911 dispatchers, Zimmerman left his vehicle and got into a physical fight with Martin before shooting him in the chest from close range. In the days after the shooting, a media storm began to develop. Opponents of the shooting alleged that racial discrimination had played a role in the killing while supporters of Zimmerman insisted that he had merely acted in self-defense. Going along with this latter belief, the Sanford Police Department did not initially charge Zimmerman with any type of crime. Public outrage soon led to a special prosecutor being assigned to the case and, in April of 2012, Zimmerman was charged with murder in the second degree. (more…)

Prisoners and Chronic Health Conditions: A Look at the Research

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Chronic conditions are health conditions that have lasted or are expected to last twelve or more months and result in functional limitations and/or the need for continuous medical care (Hwang et al. 2001). In a recent study using data from the 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Paez, Zhao, and Hwang (2009) found that 43.8 percent of non-institutionalized civilians in the U.S. live with one or more chronic conditions. Among adults, it was found that hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes are the most common chronic diseases. The data further indicated that the likelihood of having a chronic condition increases with age. Non-Hispanics were found to be more likely to report a chronic condition than Hispanics, whites were found to be more likely to report a chronic condition than other racial groups, and females were found to be more likely to report a chronic condition than males. The associations between having a chronic disease and ethnicity, race, and sex were found by Paez, Zhou, and Hwang to exist even after controlling for age. A comparison of the 2005 data to 1996 data suggests that the prevalence of multiple chronic conditions is on the rise in the U.S. (more…)

Paula Cooper’s Second Chance: The Power of Restorative Justice?

Paula Cooper Shortly After her Arrest Source: Lake County Sheriff's Department

Paula Cooper Shortly After her Arrest
Source: Lake County Sheriff’s Department

In May of 1985, 15-year-old Paula Cooper and three of her friends decided to steal some money. After drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, the group of teenage girls went to the home of Ruth Pelke in Gary, Indiana. At 78, Pelke was no match for the teens who gained entrance to the house after proclaiming their interest in receiving Bible lessons. Pelke was attacked and died after Cooper hit her with a vase, cut her legs and arms, and then proceeded to stab her in the chest and stomach 33 times. The teens then ransacked the home and stole Pelke’s car before being caught by police. Following her arrest and conviction, Cooper was sentenced to the death penalty. At 16, this made her the youngest person on death row in the United States. While the story could have ended here, it did not. Over two million people, including Pope John Paul II, would cite Cooper’s young age at the time of the crime to argue that her sentence should be reduced.  But it was Bill Pelke, Ruth Pelke’s grandson, who was perhaps the most surprising advocate for Cooper. Saying that Ruth would have wanted him to feel love and compassion for someone like Paula Cooper, Bill Pelke would eventually form a friendship with his grandmother’s killer. Following an intervention by the Indiana Supreme Court, Paula Cooper would go on to be released from prison on June 17th, 2013. (more…)

Growing Old on the Inside: America’s Aging Prison Population

Source: Fotolia

Source: Fotolia

A one-time mogul of cable television, John Rigas found himself sentenced to 12 years in federal prison following his convictions for bank fraud and securities fraud. His company, Adelphia Communications Corporation, had been the fifth largest cable company in the U.S. before it filed for bankruptcy in 2002 following allegations of internal corruption. The collapse of Adelphia and the subsequent conviction of its founder represented a monumental fall from grace. Rigas had started Adelphia in 1952 while he was still in his late twenties. At his sentencing in 2005, Rigas was 80-years-old. Leaving behind his previous life of luxury, Rigas was about to become an octogenarian living behind bars. (more…)

Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Offending: A Look at Female Inmates in the U.S.

Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center

Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center
Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections

In a post from last July, I wrote about Patricia Spottedcrow. In January of 2010, when she was 24-years-old, Spottedcrow was arrested for selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant at her residence in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma. Although she had no prior criminal record and the amount of marijuana sold was small, Spottedcrow was sentenced to 12 years in prison and assessed approximately $2,740 in fines. Following public outcry, the governor approved the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation for parole. Spottedcrow was released from prison in November of 2012. (more…)

Julia Serano’s “Whipping Girl”: A Review

Serano's Whipping GirlIn Julia Serano’s (2007) Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, the author writes about transsexuality. In particular, she writes about living as a trans woman in today’s society, the immense challenges faced by those in the trans community, and the inability of femininity to rise above the inferior status placed upon it by masculinity. Beyond explaining transsexuality to the reader and detailing the fallacious stereotypes that are often used against trans people, Serano separates herself from others in the field by carefully and smartly noting how the negative perceptions afforded to trans women illustrate the wide-range of misogynistic and pro-masculine attitudes that are still held in American culture. She explains that the preference for trans men over trans women is but one example of our society’s preference for masculinity over femininity. From her unique perspective, however, Serano sees trans women as being in a distinctively powerful position because of their experiences with living as a male and as a female. Using her life story to vividly elucidate this and other ideas, the author is able to advocate for the strengths of transsexuality. Considering such an argument, I will use this this post to analyze Serano’s book by critically evaluating its strong and weak points. (more…)

Rising to the Challenge: Prisoner Reintegration

Source: Wset10

Source: Wset10

In recent years, there has been a push for research to focus on prisoner reintegration. In response, researchers have begun investigating a number of important topics such as how to use theory to inform policy and practice, how to determine which prison programs work best to aid in reintegration, how to minimize the impact children face from having an incarcerated parent, how to acknowledge the important link that exists between sentencing and release, and how to take a holistic yet individualized approach when it comes to prisoner reentry. In this post, I will briefly summarize five recent research articles that deal with prisoner reintegration before briefly discussing which directions appear to be especially promising. (more…)

Capitalism and Corrections

Source: Gordon Incorporated

Source: Gordon Incorporated

Over the past 400 years, the Western criminal justice system (CJS) has greatly evolved. Like virtually all social institutions, its evolution has been highly impacted by the wider social environment. Along with the arrival of new technologies, philosophies, and aspirations, the Western CJS has altered its policies and practices. One very important change that has taken place over the past few centuries has been the birth of the modern prison system. Strongly inspired by factors related to capitalism, the prison system has continuously oscillated between focusing on incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. Beyond economic reasons, part of this fluctuation has taken place because of the West’s increasing desire to punish offenders mentally as opposed to physically as well as its vacillating theories regarding the true “nature of man.” In response to such ideas, it is important to consider exactly where and how the modern prison was born as well as what factors contributed to its creation. (more…)

Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice: Definitions and Debates

Source: Microsoft

Source: Microsoft

As explained by Walker (2013), modern restorative justice (RJ) began in the 1970s with the revitalization of the idea that victims and offenders need to come together and talk about what happened in an effort to achieve peace and (hopefully) restoration. While such a thought seems somewhat revolutionary in our day of overly punitive justice, RJ was the primary method used to handle offenses in pre-modern times. In fact, it was not until the Norman Conquest in 1066 that RJ was overcome by new techniques to deal with criminal events (Braithwaite 1999; Walker 2013). In the centuries that have passed since restorative justice was dismissed in much of the Western world, crimes have increasingly been regarded as an issue between the state and the offender. Somehow, the victim has been almost completely removed from the equation. In the late 1970s, however, Howard Zehr—who, at that time, worked as a director of a halfway house for recently released inmates in Indiana—stumbled upon the benefits of what he referred to as “victim-offender reconciliation.” Since that time, restorative justice (a term coined by psychologist Albert Eglash) has grown in popularity as it has become progressively more apparent that true restoration requires input from the offender as well as from the victim. While it may have taken nearly a thousand years for us to come back around to this idea, RJ is once again picking up steam as we attempt to overcome the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our oft overly retribution-focused criminal justice system. (more…)

A Review of Jennifer Baumgardner’s Look Both Ways

Jennifer Baumgardner's Look Both WaysIn Jennifer Baumgardner’s (2007) work on bisexuality, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, the author writes about her own experiences as well as recent pop culture events in an effort to discuss the common misconceptions (and hidden benefits) of bisexuality. One of the public’s biggest misconceptions, Baumgardner explains, is that bisexuals do not really exist. Straight people sometimes regard bisexuals as going through a “phase” while gay people sometimes regard bisexuals as being “part-time” homosexuals who want the best of both worlds. In reality, the author remarks that bisexuality has an interesting and potentially revolutionary position by being located between the entitlements associated with heterosexuality and the predicaments associated with homosexuality. By being able to bridge this gap, Baumgardner (2011:222) contends that bisexuals could be a source for positive transformation since “it takes someone who has known relative freedom, who expects it and loves it, to help ignite social change.” Using her life story to vividly illustrate the very realness of a bisexual identity, the author cites being able to look both ways as an indication that sexuality is fluid and, oftentimes, strongly impacted by one’s environment. Considering such an argument, I will use this post to critique Baumgardner’s book by critically evaluating its strong and weak points. (more…)