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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: death penalty

Graphic Justice: Intersections of Comics and Law

Nickie Phillips

Graphic Justice: Intersections of Comics and Law - Available Now

Crimcast is delighted to share the news that a new volume devoted to crime and criminal justice is now available!  This edited volume compiles the work of a core group of scholars who are working at the intersection of graphic novels and depictions of justice, furthering the project of Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  The international array of scholars tackle such issues as the death penalty, biomedicine, vigilantism, restorative justice, and human rights violations through such series as Watchmen, Judge Dredd, Justice League, Batman, and 100 Bullets.

Establishing the medium of graphic fiction as a critical resource for interdisciplinary legal studies, this collection is the first to address the intersection of comics and law. Whether in their representations of lawyers, their treatment justice, law and social order, or their investment in the protection of the innocent and the punishment of guilty, graphic fiction explores human life in all its social, moral and legal complexity. In the context of a now well-established interest in cultural legal studies, this book showcases the critical potential of comics and graphic fiction as a resource for nterdisciplinary legal studies and legal theory.

When Punishment Was a New and Remarkable Thing: Medieval Anglo-Saxon Responses to Crime

Staci Strobl

Crimcast caught up with Dr. Jay Paul Gates (John Jay College of Criminal Justice) to discuss his and co-editor Dr. Nicole Marafioti's (Trinity University) edited volume Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England (2014, Boydell & Brewer). In the Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon authorities often punished lawbreakers with harsh corporal penalties, such as execution, mutilation, and imprisonment. Despite their severity, however, these penalties were not arbitrary exercises of power. Rather, they were informed by nuanced philosophies of punishment which sought to resolve conflict, keep the peace, and enforce Christian morality. The ten essays in this volume engage legal, literary, historical, and archaeological evidence to investigate the role of punishment in Anglo-Saxon society. 

What prompted your interest in Anglo-Saxon punishment and how did this volume come about? 

Our interest in the topic of capital and corporal punishment grew out of basic questions concerning how the Anglo-Saxons – who inhabited and ruled England from the fifth century through the eleventh – thought about bodies in a legal context and how the body came to carry and convey meaning. We both love Wulfstan, that quirky eleventh-century Archbishop of York. His assertion that mutilation was a merciful alternative to execution—that the law must be concerned with the soul rather than the body—kept nagging us for attention. From here, we found contributors whose interests coalesced around Anglo-Saxon England. Yet the essays in the volume go well beyond the limits of England and the Anglo-Saxon period. Early Germanic and ‘barbarian’ law provide foundations; Mosaic, Irish, and Frisian law offer sources and analogues; and post- Conquest views of Anglo-Saxon England and Anglo-Saxon history show that the Anglo-Saxons continued to have relevance and meaning well beyond 1066.

One of the most interesting ideas to come out of the volume is that the Anglo-Saxons, at least initially, didn’t have much of a concept of punishment. There were systems of law, compensation, and vengeance, but these were all concerned with the maintenance of social order and stability rather than with the desire to punish unacceptable behavior. And when we came to think about it, the very concept of punishment itself seemed odd. After all, what does it do? For example, if Nicole lops off my arm, I am far better off if she pays me compensation for it than if she is punished. I might even forego compensation to get the satisfaction of vengeance. But punishment would leave me seeming weak and certainly unsatisfied: knowing she is in prison or doing back-breaking labor on a chain-gang is not going to satisfy me the way retaliation would. I’d also be short both an arm and a cash payment.

So, how did notions of punishment develop in Anglo-Saxon societies? 

Punishment seems to have developed under the influence of two major forces, the systematization of ecclesiastical penance and the centralization of royal authority. Christian responses to wrongdoing were surprisingly consistent with secular ideas of compensation. The penance known as “sick-maintenance,” for instance, required a perpetrator to do his victim’s work for him until he recovered—regardless of whether the injury was intentional or accidental. This was certainly good for social stability (the injury is compensated, the attacker shows he’s sorry, and no one needs to take vengeance), but there was also a real incentive to perform penance because it was good for the soul. The centralization of royal power also aimed to discourage vengeance and socially destabilizing actions. In fact, the earliest Anglo-Saxon punishments were designed to give people a chance to cool off and accept compensation in place of vengeance. Punishment becomes a new and remarkable thing, and kings only gradually assumed the right and responsibility of fixing other people’s injuries. It was only toward the end of the Anglo-Saxon period that kings claimed the authority to act on the body of a subject—a development that would have an important impact on post-Conquest English law.


Jay Paul Gates, John Jay College of Criminal Justice   

Jay Paul Gates, John Jay College of Criminal Justice


What ideas about punishment described in the volume appear to be persisting into modern Anglo-Saxon-influenced societies?  

The first point to note is that Anglo-American law, at least through the twentieth century, was very much influenced by the laws penned by Archbishop Wulfstan in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. They were first taken up by the Danish conqueror king, Cnut, and then by the Normans after the 1066 Conquest. In those early laws we see a real tension between the need for the threat of punishment as a means of deterrence and penitential punishment as a means of rehabilitating the criminal, except in the most extreme cases. Such attitudes toward the role of punishment in the criminal justice system seem still to be hotly debated. Similarly, the restrictions on felons in modern American law, even after they have served their sentences, recalls the Anglo-Saxon notion of the guilty as being permanently marked, whether through the elimination of their legal status (oath-worthiness) or through mutilation. However, what seems to have slipped into the background in the modern discussion, and which is very much worth foregrounding again, is the medieval concern not just with punishing the perpetrator but making whole the victim.

What can this volume, grounded in the humanities, teach social scientists and criminologists about approaching studies of contemporary punishment? 

As we hear the modern debate, there are three main functions of punishment: deterrence, vengeance, and rehabilitation. To the medieval mind, I don’t know that there was quite so great a distance between these functions as there is for us, and it is perhaps worth returning to the mutually supporting roles of these functions in modern discussions. An example of this may come in the form of compensation laws and “sick-maintenance.” These two related legal categories are fundamentally concerned with how to make whole a victim. That is, after one person wounded another, he had to pay compensation for the injury to the victim (the compensation tariffs of Anglo-Saxon law remain the foundation for workers’ compensation tables) and then do the work that the injured person was unable to do until he had healed sufficiently. Certainly there is a sense of vengeance enacted on the man who must do the work of the person he injured—it must be a slight to one’s honor and sense of self to serve someone whom he had wanted badly enough to attack. Yet there is a process for the injured party to see his attacker work for his benefit and make good the injury. Through such a process there is a real possibility of the cooling of tempers, of reconciliation between the two parties, and of rehabilitating the public peace that was broken as well. Something like this has been tried in the restorative justice after the genocidal violence in Rwanda. But perhaps looking to the medieval understandings of punishment would bring punishment and restorative justice into more regular discourse within less extraordinary criminal justice processes.

What avenues of future research will this volume open?

At least one suggestion has been that the idea of crime might need to be re-thought. After all, if penance is concerned with sin and if vengeance and compensation are concerned with injury, what defines crime? What makes crime its own category of wrong and how might it be punished? 

Additionally, there is a focus on men in this volume, simply because so many of our sources represent injury as a predominantly masculine concern. However, it is also important to consider women’s roles in punishment. How involved were women in imposing or mitigating punishment? How were they punished for offenses they committed, and what exactly were those offenses? Although evidence for female misconduct is more elusive, there is valuable work to be done in this area. 

Contributors to the volume include Valerie Allen, Jo Buckberry, Daniela Fruscione, Jay Paul Gates, Stefan Jurasinski, Nicole Marafioti, Daniel O'Gorman, Lisi Oliver, Andrew Rabin, and Daniel Thomas.

The Exonerated: A Pedagogical Exercise

Nickie Phillips

The Exonerated:  A Pedagogical Exercise Adapted From Non-Fiction Narrative Dramaturgical Work to Stimulate Critical Thinking Among Sociology/Criminology/Legal Studies/Anthropology Students In November, the editors of CrimCast posted a review of my piece, The Exonerated: Theater Speaks the Words of Life Before and After Death Row, published on CrimCast. I sent around copies to some colleagues in a variety of disciplines, prompting a kind and enthusiastic response from my friend, Professor Barbara Hart, who teaches Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Tyler. Professor Hart, whose Texas teaching has her situated geographically far from the New York theater community and The Culture Club (which was the original and recent home of the theatrical production, which included A-list movie and theater stars, and even more compellingly, actual exonerees engaging in the staged reading of their transcribed words) asked the following: “The play is such a testament to the problems with the death penalty.  I wonder how to work it into the curriculum – or least excerpts from it” (e-mail from Barbara Hart, December 3, 2012).  This has been a question for me, as well, as students cannot necessarily afford theater tickets and given the logistical fact that most plays are short lasting (to a “season” of a semesterly nature of Fall and Spring in the New York cycles). Accordingly, during some semesters, I show the 90-minute film version of the play.  For me, this works especially well among evening students (where I have a 3-hour chunk, and during the course of a semesterly team project, about which I presented at the 2012 International Visual Sociology Association, in a paper entitled, “The Team Project: Introducing College Students to Field Work as a Sociological Technique”).  In fact, I have this in class showing when I cannot get my classes to an actual cinema or theater with a show relating to course materials and topics (read, if I have a shorter class, such as last semester’s 2-hour Tuesday slot, or if there are what we euphemize as “weather events”). Also, during some semesters, I offer an essay option on either the take home research exercise or the final in room essay.  Here, in honor of a colleague who is currently teaching an intensive multi-hour per day winter session (in which a variety of exercises each day are necessary for intellectual and attention survival of both students and instructors), I am reprinting the team project version of the exercise, though it can certainly be adapted for individual work (rather than group work).  This particular exercise, for a Principles of Sociology class, was broken down into two classes (a 2-hour viewing and discussion, and 1-hour team work day), to style after a fashion of the original 3-hour evening class pedagogical design.  The assignment is as originally constructed, and includes accommodations for students who had excused absences (a good model generally);  I note that the final “handin” of the project was deferred due to complications arising out of Hurricane Sandy, but that each team produced interesting and fresh perspectives.


On October 23, 2012, the class had a full viewing of the 2005 movie, The Exonerated, based upon the real life experiences of 6 exonerated death row prisoners (and the deceased executed Jesse, who was Sunny's husband).

On Thursday, October 25, 2012, the class had a debriefing worksheet exercise, at which full attendance is required for this assessed exercise. (Another way of saying this is that anyone awol without documented proof of immediate personal involvement of themselves in a birth, a death, a hospitalization or an incarceration or something that Pappas deems equally dramatic, with full proof, will get a 0 for this evolution of the team project).

TEAMS HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED TO EACH HAVE ONE SPECIAL EXONEREE TO FOLLOW: RED:  Gary (Brian Dennehy) ORANGE: Robert Earl Hayes (David Brown, Jr.) YELLOW:  Kerry Max Cook (Aidan Quinn) GREEN:  David Keaton (Danny Glover) BLUE:  Sunny (Susan Sarandon) INDIGO:  Jesse (no actor, as executed prior to exoneration) VIOLET:  Delbert Tibbs (Delroy Lindo)

YOUR TEAM COLOR IS ____________________________________









1. What were the personal troubles and/or areas in which s/he was marginalized (example race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, socio-economic status)?  What of these might have led to their PERSONAL TROUBLES (remember : "The Promise/The Sociological Eye”) and to their arrest? 2. What in particular do you think led to these exonerees being convicted at trial, notwithstanding that they were innocents?  Another way of asking this is what about the social institutions/social organizations came into play and marginalized them further. Please be specific and you answer should be DIFFERENT than to answer 1. 3. How was your designated exoneree socialized into becoming a prisoner (a convict) once incarcerated? Was it "traditional" socialization or was it deviant from social institutionalization generally? 4. What led to the appeal and release of your designated exoneree (or, for the team working on Jesse, what led to the exoneration and clearance of his good name post-mortem)? 5. Was your exoneree re-integrated (assimilated) back into society generally after his/her release?  What challenges did he/she face? How did your exoneree overcome these? PS You should feel free to refer to family structures, job structures, religious institutions and beliefs, material and non-material culture. 6. BONUS ROUND FOR +5 TOWARD THE MIDTERM ESSAY FOR EACH MEMBER WHO PARTICIPATES (SLACKERS GET NOTHING):  Consider the film’s dramaturgical construction (if you look in the back index of our textbook, there should be a 5 page entry listed).  Teams aiming for the brass ring should write at least 6 sentences (average team number is 6) describing what dramaturgy is, who is a major proponent of the sociological discussion of dramaturgy, how does dramaturgy relate in court, how does dramaturgy relate on the movie?

As an aside, in the class debrief, students who were both in favor of, and in opposition to, the death penalty, had an opportunity to voice and to hear different perspectives.  Perhaps some moved in their views, perhaps not, but all who spoke (and a large proportion of the class did so with enthusiasm and liveliness) had particularized comments that pointed them toward further critical thinking, with their teams, and perhaps with their friends, families and colleagues. Professor Barbara Hart pointed me toward sharing this exercise, and furthering easy access to a non-New York based viewing – and reviewing – student audience, and I thank my friend and colleague for so doing!

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2011/2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year.  Earlier this year, Greenwood Press published her first book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, which focused upon the aspect of criminal liability of doctors who engage in life-shortening activity, and upon the role of the media in these cases in furthering the debate, both pro and con.

Last Words of Death Row Inmates

Nickie Phillips

Go here for Jon Millward’s analysis of the most common words among the last statements by death row inmates. For a more in-depth analysis of the themes revealed in the last words of the condemned inmates and those of their co-victims, see Scott Vollum’s, associate professor at James Madison University, book “Last Words and the Death Penalty: Voices of the Condemned and Their Co-Victims.”

And, check out our podcast interview with Scott here.

Death Penalty: Words of the Condemned and Their Co-Victims

Nickie Phillips

In this episode we interview death penalty expert Dr. Scott Vollum, Assistant Professor at James Madison University. His book Last Words and the Death Penalty (2008) has just been released in paperback.


Arrigo, B.A. (2001). The "death row community": A community psychology perspective.  Deviant Behavior, 22: 43-71.

Arrigo, B.A. (2003), Victim vices, victim voices, and impact statements: On the place of emotion and the role of restorative justice in capital sentencing. Crime & Delinquency, 49(4), 603-626.

Christie, N (1977). Conflicts as property. British Journal of Criminology, 17: 1-15.

del Carmen, R. V., Vollum, S., Cheeseman, K., San Miguel, C., & Frantzen, D. (2008) The Death Penalty: Constitutional Issues, Commentaries, and Case Briefs, 2nd Edition. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing.

Grann, D. (2009, September 7).  Trial by fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?  The New Yorker.

Herman, S. (2010). Parallel justice for victims of crime.  Washington, DC: The National Center for Victims of Crime.

Vollum, S. (2008). Last words and the death penalty: Voices of the condemned and their co-victims.  New York, NY: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

Creative work about Karla Faye Tucker:

Steve Earle, "Karla" (2002) [play]

Indigo Girls, "Faye Tucker" (1999) [song]