Tag Archives: crime

Evil Men

New Books in Sociology is an untapped resource for the classroom.  In these podcasts, the hosts spend about an hour talking with the author of a new sociological book.  While they are all interesting, a recent podcast caught my (aspiring genocide scholar) eye.  Evil Men, by James Dawes, draws on firsthand accounts of convicted war criminals.  This podcast would make a fantastic assignment in a course covering genocide, human rights, international law, or criminology.  Below are a few questions that could accompany the podcast.

  1. Who did Dawes choose to interview, and why?
  2. Why were interviews an appropriate research method for this project?
  3. Were people willing to talk with Dawes?  Why do you think this was the case?
  4. What did Dawes learn about why these “evil men” committed the crimes they did?
  5. What do his findings tell us about why people commit war crimes?  Based on what you have heard, do you find anything problematic about drawing scientific conclusions from his book?

This podcast could also be paired with several other activities on Teaching TSP, such as these activities about the Milgram experiment and this activity about power.

 

Understanding the Causes of Genocide

Our own Hollie Nyseth Brehm recently wrote a special feature for TSP entitled “The Crime of Genocide.” The article is a short and concise summary of the conditions that can lead to genocide, as identified by social science research. This would be a great article to use in a course on crime, as criminologists have largely neglected the study of genocide. It’s a great introduction to the topic!

A few questions to get the discussion going:

1. What does the word genocide mean and how did the word come to mean what we understand it to mean today?

2. Why have genocides generally been ignored by criminologists? What do they have in common with other types of crime more often studied by such scholars?

3. What does the metaphor “genocide doesn’t come like rain” mean? Why is this the case?

4. How do psychological and individual factors matter (or not matter) when trying to understand which people become perpetrators of genocide?

5. How can the government and characteristics of the state play a role in encouraging genocide? (The author gives several reasons. List them all.)

6. How can the international community play a role in preventing and stopping genocide? How do connections to other countries matter?

 

The Road From Crime (Film)

We recommend this great documentary, The Road From Crime, about desistance from crime to show in any crim or intro class. The documentary follows Allan Weaver, a Scottish ex-offender turned probation officer as he explores how individuals like himself get caught up in the criminal justice system, and how some are eventually able to leave a life of crime behind. He discovers that “the system” actually leads to more re-offending, because it encourages labeling and stigmatization of ex-offenders.

The film references the research of American criminologists John Laub and Robert J. Sampson and interviews John Laub and Faye Taxman. Overall, it is a compelling and passionate discussion about what offenders need to become ex-offenders.

Make sure to show the one with English subtitles! The accents are hard to understand with American English ears :)

To listen to an interview with two criminologists who worked on the film (and its parent project, Discovering Desistance), please visit our Office Hours section.

The Sociology of Selling Meth



In May, we cross-posted a special edition of Office Hours from the all new Contexts Podcast. In this interview, Jessica Streeter speaks with Henry H. Brownstein   and Timothy M. Mulcahy,  co-authors of the Winter 2012 Contexts feature,  Home Cooking: Marketing Meth.

This podcast or feature article (check if your university library has access to Contexts) would work well on its own in any criminal justice or deviance course. But what really struck me while listening to this podcast is how similar their findings are to the show Breaking Bad.

For those not familiar with the show, Breaking Bad tells the story of a square high school chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with lung cancer,  turns to a life of crime and begins to cook and sell meth to ensure his family’s financial security after he dies.

The authors of Home Cooking: Marketing Meth set up an interesting sociological question of why meth markets are so different from other drug markets. You could show an episode of the Breaking Bad in class and have a discussion about the social worlds of meth users and sellers compared to other drug markets. Or have students watch it at home and do their own analysis for a course paper.

For a comparison, check out “The wire goes to college” from the Summer 2011 issue of Contexts, an exchange between graduate students on the Contexts board and four scholars about the HBO crime drama The Wirewhich examined Baltimore’s drug trade.

Also check out Maria Kefalas book review of the New York Times bestseller Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, entitled “from the music man to methland.

Crime & Climate Change

126:366

Below is a guest post from TSP’s Sarah Shannon.  Sarah is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota and a TSP Graduate Student Board member.  She studies law, crime, and deviance, especially the intersections between crime, punishment, and public welfare programs.

 

We’d all love to bring renowned sociologists and other social scientists into our classrooms as guest speakers, but budget and logistical constraints tend to get in the way. The good news is podcast interviews, such as TSP’s Office Hours, mean that “virtual guest speakers” are a mere click away!

This is how I have approached using podcasts in the classroom – as an opportunity to bring in the real voice of the scholars whose theories and research we cover through course readings and lectures. I’ve found that using audio technology in the classroom can enhance students’ grasp and interest in what might otherwise seem like mundane course material.

For example, last February I interviewed Dr. Robert Agnew for TSP’s Office Hours. We discussed a recent article he published in Theoretical Criminology on the potential consequences of climate change for crime. During our conversation, Dr. Agnew described the potential physical and social consequences of climate change and then applied his General Strain Theory of crime to explain how climate change might become a driver for increasing crime rates in the years ahead.

This past May, I taught a course in criminological theory for juniors and seniors at the University of Minnesota. On the day that we covered strain theory, including Dr. Agnew’s General Strain Theory, I played back the podcast and had students respond to the following two questions:

1)     How does Dr. Agnew apply strain theory to climate change? Be specific.

2)     Do you find his argument persuasive? Why or why not.

Because Dr. Agnew’s description in our podcast interview is so clear, students had little trouble explaining how the theory might apply should climate change play out the way many experts anticipate and most found this very persuasive. One student later commented in course evaluations that this particular activity helped him see how criminological theories apply in “real life.”

Office Hours offers a wealth of other such interviews that, as Teaching TSP bloggers have noted before, can be used in the classroom, covering such topics as crime, inequality, demographic change, social movements, politics, and more!

Death Penalty in America

Abolish Death Penalty April 4 2011 Janet Valder 003

Photo by codepinkphoenix via flickr.com

The Office Hours Team recently sat down with Dr. David Garland, professor of sociology and law at New York University.  He spoke with the team about his most recent book, Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in the Age of Abolition.  The podcast, found here, would be a great assignment, as it provides a concise review of key arguments he makes in the book.  Below are a few discussion questions you could use in class or assign with the podcast.

1)   In Garland’s eyes, why is the death penalty a peculiar U.S. institution?

2)   What reasons are usually given in favor of the death penalty in the U.S., and what does Garland think about them?

3)   Are there patterns found among defendants on death row?

4)   Do you have an opinion about the use of the death penalty in the U.S.?  If so, what is it?

5)   What is one thing you learned from this podcast?

If the questions are assigned as homework:

6)   Conduct some quick online research.  When did states start outlawing the death penalty?  How many states allow it?

Prison and Reoffending

 

Jail cell at the Southborough Police Department

The TSP Office Hours team just posted their first “Drop In,” which are shorter versions of Office Hours Podcasts.   Drop Ins (about 10 minutes) would make great assignments or are even short enough to listen to in class.  In the first Drop In, TSP talks with Matt Snodgrass about his work on the relationship between time served in prison and reoffending.  Here are some questions you could assign or discuss in class:

1.  Why might some people expect that there is a relationship between the amount of time spent in prison and reoffending after release?

2.  Snodgrass talks briefly about his methodology.  What makes this type of study tricky, and what did he and his colleagues do to get around this?

3.  What are the policy implications of the results found in this study and similar studies?

Turf War

Below is an activity written by Amy Alsup, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.  The activity utilizes a clip from The Wire to teach about crime and deviance.

Turf WarThe Wire: Season 2, Episode 8 “Duck & Cover” (10 minutes 13 seconds)

Location: YouTube: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HmPZyrGGdk&feature=related)

Scene Description:

“At the Towers, Bodie organizes his crew to arrive at the disputed corner at 7 a.m., in order to beat their rivals to the spot. They bring guns and bats and when the other dealer finally shows, he threatens Bodie: “You gon’ see me in your sleep.” The other gang leaves, but Bodie knows they’ll be back.”

From: http://www.hbo.com/thewire/episode/season2/episode21.shtml

This scene illustrates a turf war that occurs between two rival gangs in Baltimore.  Members of the Barksdale crew, featured at the beginning of the scene, find rival gang members dealing drugs on the block that they normally occupy.  After a brief confrontation, a gunfight ensues.  A shot is fired through the window of an apartment building, where a mother finds her son dead on his bedroom floor.  Stringer Bell, who is running operations while gang leader Avon Barksdale is in jail, is angered by the carelessness of his crew and orders Bodie to take a time-out.  Bodie and his crew dispose of the guns by dumping them in the water.

This clip could be used to discuss crime, police surveillance, drug wars, gangs and general difficulties and hardships of life in impoverished communities.  The rival gang scene could be shown to introduce the politics of the underground drug economy.  It would provide an excellent introduction to a lecture, discussion or active learning exercise about social conditions which lead to criminal activity and the consequences of crime on the wider community.

Active Learning Exercise Idea:

Begin class with a brief lecture on theories of crime and deviance and social conditions in impoverished communities that lead to criminal activity.  Show the clip and have students break up into small groups to discuss what actions they would take to improve conditions in this community.

Ask students to (1) identify and list five problems in the Baltimore community (ie: drug dealing, gun violence, poverty, dangerous conditions for children, etc).  (2) Discuss 5 ways in which these problems could be prevented.

Then, have the full class congregate once again.  Have one representative from each group write the problematic conditions in the community on the board and then return to their seats.  Go through the list of problematic conditions in the community.  Ask students:

  • Are these personal troubles or sociological issues?  (For students who are unfamiliar with C. Wright Mills, this can be rephrased as: “Are these problems in the community psychological?  social?  local?  global?”)
  • What caused these problematic conditions in the community?  Do you think problems arise due to cultural factors, social inequalities, or individual decisions?  Why?

Then, ask students to identify the solutions they provided.  Challenge students to use theories about crime and deviance to rationalize their choices.

 

Understanding Suicide Bombers

Scenes from Baquba suicide bombing
The motives of suicide bombers escape most of our understandings. This confusion presents a significant obstacle for policy makers trying to combat this type of crime. Robert J. Brym tackles this issue in his article “Six Lessons of Suicide Bombers” (Contexts, Fall 2007).  Use the discussion questions or the activity below to help students engage with this topic.

(This article, along with these activities will also be featured in the upcoming Contexts Reader.)

1)    Did it surprise you that suicide bombers tend not to be psychologically unstable or that they are not mainly motivated by religion? How do the facts and findings reported in this article conflict with our usual cultural understanding of terrorists and suicide bombers?

2)    Why don’t terrorist organizations recruit “crazy” people for suicide attacks, according to this article?

3)    Many countries refuse to negotiate with terrorists, stating that negotiation validates terrorism as a form of international relations. Based upon this article, do you think policies like this reduce the “boomerang effect” or make matters worse? Explain your answer.

ACTIVITY: Pretend you are the head of an anti-terrorism advisory board for the United Nations. Using Brym’s six lessons, devise a strategic action plan for combating and reducing instances of suicide bombing.

Coping with Innocence After Death Row

This case study was written by Minzee Kim, a Sociology Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.  Minzee suggests that the activity be used with “Coping with Innocence After Death Row” by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook (Contexts, Fall 2008).

Factual background: In two separate incidents in July 1984, a male assailant broke into an apartment, severed phone wires, sexually assaulted a woman, and searched through her belongings, taking money and other items.

On August 1, 1984, Ronald Cotton was arrested for the rapes. In January 1985, Cotton was convicted by a jury of one count of rape and one count of burglary. In a second trial in November 1987, Cotton was convicted of both rapes and two counts of burglary. A County Superior Court sentenced Cotton to life plus 54 years.

Prosecutor’s evidence at trial: Cotton’s alibi was supported by family members. The jury was not allowed to hear evidence that the second victim failed to pick Cotton out of either a photo array or a police lineup. The prosecution based its case on several points:

· A photo identification was made by one of the victims.

· A police lineup identification was made by one of the victims.

· A flashlight in Cotton’s home resembled the one used by the assailant.

· Rubber from Cotton’s tennis shoe was consistent with rubber found at one of the crime scenes.

Post-conviction challenges: Cotton’s attorney filed an appeal. The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the second victim had picked another man out of the lineup and the trial court did not allow this evidence to be heard by the jury.

In November 1987, Cotton was retried for both rapes. The second victim had decided that Cotton was the assailant. Before the second trial, a man in prison who had been convicted for crimes similar to these assaults stated to another inmate that he had committed Cotton’s crimes. The superior court judge refused to allow this information into evidence, and Cotton was convicted of both rapes and sentenced to life.

The next year Cotton’s appellate defender filed a brief that did not argue the failure to admit the second suspect’s confession. The conviction was affirmed. In 1994, two new lawyers, at the request of the chief appellate defender, took over Cotton’s defense. They filed a motion for appropriate relief on the grounds of inadequate appeal counsel. They also filed a motion for DNA testing that was granted in October 1994. In the spring of 1995, the Burlington Police Department turned over all evidence that contained the assailant’s semen for DNA testing.

DNA results: The samples from one victim were too deteriorated to be conclusive, but the samples from the other victim’s vaginal swab and underwear were submitted to PCR testing and showed no match to Cotton. At the defense attorneys’ request, the results were sent to the State Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database containing the DNA patterns of convicted, violent felons in North Carolina prisons. The State’s database showed a match with the convict who had earlier confessed to the crime.

Conclusion: After Cotton’s attorneys received the DNA test results in May 1995, they contacted the district attorney, who joined the defense attorneys in the motion to dismiss the charges. On June 30, 1995, Cotton was officially cleared of all charges and released from prison. In July 1995, the governor of North Carolina officially pardoned Cotton, making him eligible for $5,000 compensation from the State. Cotton had served ten and one-half years of his sentence.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Cotton’s wrongful conviction could have been prevented? In what stages of the investigation and trial? How?
  2. Do you think the use of DNA evidence can prevent wrongful conviction? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think Cotton should receive any monetary compensation from the state? Why or why not?
  4. If you are in favor of monetary compensation, what would be a reasonable amount of compensation?
  5. Does Cotton deserve any non-monetary compensation (e.g. formal apology from the victim who mistakenly identified him as the offender)?