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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 Category: Guest Blogs

Prime Minister or "Crime Minister"? Canadian Hip Hop Artists Harness the Power of the Political Protest Song

Nickie Phillips

The political climate in Canada has been decidedly conservative for many years now, since the election of a united conservative movement, merging three parties of the ‘right’ and led by prime minister Stephen Harper. While liberals have been outraged by the actions of the government, the political scene is relatively stable. This is thanks to Mr. Harper, known as a brilliant tactician and for his tightly controlled caucus and messaging. He has a firm hand on the tiller, guiding Canada toward a future as a corporatist petro-state with few of the public services that Canadians historically enjoy and are known for.

While his methods and agenda have been widely criticized by activists and academics, there has been little in the way of artistic opposition. Unlike in the U.S., where, The Dixie Chicks, and many others use music to reach out to the masses and push a political message, Canadian musicians have remained largely silent – or at least not right in the fray. There are a number of possibilities as to why that might be. Canadians are quite fairly characterized as docile and polite. Canadian artists also rely more on government support than their counterparts in America, and with arts funding having been substantially cut under Harper, there is less to go around. This possibility is exacerbated by well-documented counts of artists and public servants being blacklisted or otherwise suffering retribution for speaking out against the government. So, in such a moment, it is notable to see a musician focus their sights directly on the prime minister, Stephen Harper.

In ‘What Up, Steve?’, the new track and video from Halifax Nova Scotia’s The Caravan, MC Kyle McKenna goes down the list of damage inflicted on Canadians by Harper and his Conservative Party. From cuts to health care and our public broadcaster, the CBC, to tax increases that disproportionately effect working and low-income people (while corporate tax rates continue to decrease), this song plays the Coles Notes (or Spark Notes) of the Harper government and its controversies. While some of it is playful, like accusing the Prime Minister of listen to the oft-mocked band Creed, much of what is being said is substantial and soundly accurate.

Not only is ‘What Up, Steve?’ notable for the subject matter, it stands out as the articulation of the Canadian “everyman”. Speaking with the band, everyone identifies themselves as absolutely non-political, and wouldn’t have expected themselves to be publicly attacking a politician. This song came about when McKenna heard about back-breaking cuts to the CBC, a center-piece of Canadian culture who have recorded sessions with The Caravan for TV and radio. The cuts led to the closing of an important soundstage in Halifax, where local talent was regularly given a chance to be seen by national television audiences. “We were one of the last four local bands to play that stage, so this affected myself as well as others and spurred the inspiration” says McKenna. So, with inspiration and an understanding of the issues gleaned from headlines and conversations with friends, Kyle wrote the song. But his lack of political acumen turns out to be his greatest asset. He references notable events spanning many years of Harpers time in office, ones that most any Canadian can immediately recognize and, when juxtaposed to other events and McKenna’s editorializing, leaves the listener with a decidedly clear picture of the Canadian Prime Minister – at least as it relates to whether or not you would want to support such a person.

But does it make a difference? My immediate answer is “It’s sure worth a try.” Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party have consistently increased their support among working class Canadians, despite an agenda that is decidedly against the best interests of the vast majority. Political, social, radical, and legal opposition has galvanized those already fighting Harper, but produced little in the way of results. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Conservative Party had broken election law in 2006, when they first came to power, by spending 2 million dollars more than the 20 million dollar limit for a federal political party in an election. For overspending by more than 10% and winning the election by a hair, they were fined approximately $60,000. Legal action isn’t working, so musicians taking an easily-digestible (and catchy) message to the people might be our best shot.


John Wimberly is a political, social, and environmental activist in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. He currently works for the socialist New Democratic Party government in Nova Scotia and as a freelance writer.

“I Will Join With You in the Order of Marriage,” and Also With You

Nickie Phillips

Bigamy Prosecutions in Late Medieval France


Crimcast sat down with Dr. Sara McDougall, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and author of Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne (2012), to discuss her book’s fascinating glimpse into decisions to prosecute bigamy in medieval northern France. Her archival research into court documents from 15th century Troyes uncovered that men, not women, were more likely to be prosecuted for bigamy and that the prosecutions were an attempt to reaffirm Christian moral order in a time of social dislocation after the Hundred Years’ War. Northern France, ahead of its time in a prosecutorial spirit that would characterize the later Inquisition, zealously regulated itself in order to be more pleasing to God.

You describe the prosecutions as a kind of “moral panic” expressed by some clergy in the area. How was this sense of moral panic conveyed in the court records? What type of court was it?

Local religious authorities throughout Catholic Europe had what was called "spiritual jurisdiction" over the communities they served. This jurisdiction included the power to prosecute moral offences, crimes involving members of the clergy, and crimes involving either sacred spaces or sacred things. As marriage counted among the most sacred things of the Catholic Church, bishops in many parts of Europe claimed the power to regulate marriages. While all of these courts operated according to the rules of canon law - the law of the Catholic Church - regional differences abounded. In some places, church courts came to operate quite aggressively to regulate moral behavior, while in other places - probably most places - church courts essentially operated only in response to a request from an accuser or complainant.

The bishop's court in Troyes was exceptionally proactive. They employed a team of trained jurists who acted as public prosecutors, as notaries, and also as quasi-police officers to investigate, collect depositions, and arrest and detain suspected offenders.

I argue that they did so out of a shared desire to reform behavior in their diocese, out of a belief that the devastating warfare and disruptions they suffered from in the fifteenth century were due to divine punishment for the sinful behavior in the community. Acting upon their legal and theological training, they prosecuted hundreds of men and women for alleged sexual offences and violations of marriage law, as well as blasphemy and violence. They also targeted scapegoats, those they considered to have committed the crimes they deemed most injurious to the salvation of souls in the community. These "worst offenders" according to their assessments, were priests who had fought as brigands and male bigamists. Similar "moral panic" is seen in other parts of France at the same time, and with different targets, such as witches.

What were some of the descriptions of punishments meted out for bigamy at the time? Were public denunciation and humiliation also important aspects of this moral panic?

Public punishment was absolutely an essential tool. The court regularly subjected male bigamists and others who they found to be guilty of the most serious offences, to public exposure, tying them by their wrists to the ladder of the scaffold in front of the cathedral on Sundays and feast days, the days in which the largest numbers of people would see their shame. The court also subjected these "worst offenders" to imprisonment, with sentences usually ranging from a month to a few years. If short, these sentences could nevertheless prove deadly, as conditions in the prison were less than ideal. These sentences were exceptional. For the vast majority of offenders, the court punished them with a fine, usually a small one.

The book explores the idea that marriage was so sacred to people in France at this time that they would go to great lengths to be married—multiple times. Tell us how this came to be the case.

sara cover

Previously, scholars usually assumed that people in most of medieval Europe did not care a great deal about marriage. If their marriages went badly, these scholars thought, people would just work out some kind of arrangement, mutually or unilaterally, separating themselves and occasionally taking up with new partners who they could not legally marry. This certainly seems to be common in some parts of Italy, as Emlyn Eisenach has shown, and probably in Spain as well. However, the work of scholars such as David d'Avray - whose work is really quite riveting and convincing - has demonstrated that in much of medieval Europe, by the mid-fourteenth and especially the fifteenth century many people came to care a great deal about marriage, for a number of reasons. Marriage had become greatly prized in medieval society. Marriage not only provided legitimacy for children - which allowed them to inherit lands and titles from their parents - it also promoted both social status and religious status. People came to believe that a married woman assumed a position of honor and respect in a community; she also helped to ensure her salvation by marrying. Men, too, assumed positions of social and religious honor by taking wives and raising families, by acting as responsible household head, charged with working towards his own salvation but also that of his wife and children. As marriage became seen as providing these things, particularly in places such as Northern France, more and more people whose first marriages had fallen apart for some reason seem to have decided that they wanted to be married to their new partner regardless of the fact that it was technically illegal to do so. They wanted God's blessing on their union, they wanted the legitimacy marriage accorded children (and even if courts found a couple guilty of bigamy they usually treated the children as legitimate, in a rather generous presumption that at least one of the parties to the marriage could have thought it was a valid marriage), and they wanted to be able to live together without shame, without rebuke from their neighbors.

The fact that more men than women were prosecuted for bigamy is a finding that challenges conventional notions of how western patriarchy operates. In a Bostonia article, you are quoted as referring to it as a kind of “useful misogyny.” Why weren’t women prosecuted more often? Were they getting a big break or might there have been informal sanctions waiting for them?

As so often the case throughout history, courts in medieval Europe punished men far more often and more harshly than women. While we might assume that bigamy would prove an exception to this rule - as would a crime like witchcraft or infanticide, typically classic "female crimes" - in fact it did not. Many women committed bigamy, remarrying after either abandoning their husbands or being abandoned by them, but did not face the same punishment that a man who did the same thing would face. Women generally paid small fines, if anything, for their bigamy, while male bigamists were subject to public punishment and imprisoned. This has, I argue, precisely to do with the "useful misogyny" you mentioned. As the court officials - and many people at the time - thought that men were more responsible and more rational than women, almost anything a woman did was not really her fault, but the fault of a man instead. Her father, husband, or lover should have kept her from wrongdoing, and if she committed some crime like bigamy, it was really the men in her life who were to blame. This misogyny, of course, is insulting, but it certainly worked to these women's advantage.

What are you working on these days? Are there more stories of scandalous behavior and colorful prosecutions to be found in medieval archives?

I am currently working on two different, related projects. One is a sort of cultural history of adultery in late-medieval France, an effort to address all the different ways in which people thought about and responded to adultery, in and out of court. There are quite a few scandalous stories I could tell - stay tuned! I am also researching illegitimate children, to try and find out more about them. We know very little about what people did about illegitimate children - how often they may have practiced abortion or infanticide, or abandoned the children, and also what they did with illegitimate children they decided to keep. We do not know what it meant for these children to be known as illegitimate throughout their lives, if indeed they were so stigmatized.


This is the first in a 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often game-changing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of police, courts, and corrections.

Freedom of the City

Nickie Phillips


Freedom of the City Craig Wroe (as Solider) in Brian Friel's THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street), directed by Ciaran O'Reilly. For more information, visit Photo credit: Carol Rosegg.

Guest post by Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD

Brian Friel’s play, The Freedom of the City, presented by the Irish Repertory tells the story, in juxtaposition, of the January 30, 1972 “Bloody Sunday” when British Parachute Regiment soldiers killed 13 people in Derry, Northern Ireland and the Widgery Commission, set up to investigate. The Widgery Commission found nobody responsible for the Bloody Sunday killings and neither soldiers nor officers were disciplined (let alone brought to trial). Friel infuses this story – and the subsequent public outcry after the sham investigation – with humanity in the forms of aspiring middle-class Michael (James Russell), middle-aged housewife/mother of 11 Lily (Caroline Seymour) and the homeless young Skinner (Joseph Sikora). These three randomly found themselves in the resplendent Mayor’s Parlor in the Guildhall. They move from vague awe and disrespect of the office into a comfortable familiarity, essentially hiding out after some rioting had already taken place. Eventually, they are enjoying the Mayor’s adult beverages and engaging in minor vandalism (of political origin). The three unlikely friends upon leaving the space are shot to death, even as Lily is extending dinner invitations to the young men of meager means. (That this took place as soldiers moved up the aisles of the Irish Repertory Theatre, scope locked on their targets, was all the more touching, an excellent directorial touch by Ciaran O’Reilly.) In bas relief, the judge (Peter Cormican) issued an interspersed recount that led to the shocking verdict as regards the wrongful conduct of the police, a verdict so shocking that in 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair set up another inquiry which lasted some 12 years. However, on June 10, 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron, took responsibility with the findings of Lord Saville’s Commission, and reversing those of the Widgery Commission. Cameron’s official apology for the deaths included a statement that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.” Finally, on July 4, 2012, the police have begun a murder investigation into the deaths of the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre. The Irish Repertory’s presentation of Friel’s play reminds us that while justice delayed may be justice denied, there may in the end be some measure of justice in the face of that which is not just. That Friel included the running commentary of a sociologist who is an expert on the culture of poverty, Dr. Dobbs (Christa Scott-Reed) served as a vehicle to make this play about social justice, as well as criminal justice.

For more information, visit

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc (Criminal Justice Policy), PhD, currently 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. She did her MSc and PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science, focusing upon emerging criminal law, the courthouse culture of criminal trials and the media’s role in them.

Amour: Family, Care Giving and Mercy Killing Go to the Oscars

Nickie Phillips

Amour (2012):  Family, Care Giving and Mercy Killing Go to the Oscars 1

Guest Post by Demetra M. Pappas

That the title of the Oscar-nominated French film, Amour (2012), is the French word for “love,” sets up this fact-based film about an aging 80-something-year-old couple, in which wife Anne Laurent (played by Emmanuelle Riva) falls ill and husband Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) engages in long-term caregiving and ultimately engages in mercy killing of Anne, who suffered from heart disease and repeated, worsening strokes. No, this is not a spoiler alert – in the opening scenes, the audience is treated to a CSI-style arrival of policing authorities on the scene of a homicide.  The events depicted are factually based upon events that took place in screenwriter/director Michael Haneke’s family.  The work has been awarded thus far with awards from Cannes to Bafta, and at the 2013 Oscars, the film has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke), Best Director (Michael Haneke) and Best Foreign Language Film.

I could tell you that his may well be the best film made in the past 20 years, as my friend Alex Kustanovich, a former screenwriter, told me after he saw it in France over the Christmas break.  Or I could repeat the persnickety (but seemingly correct) comment made by the friend I attended the film’s screening with, herself a scriptwriter and artist, made, to the effect that the Isabelle Huppert (as daughter Eva Laurent) wore the same shoes in all scenes (my friend’s explanation – the scenes were likely all shot the same day, and the relatively low budget film purchased different outfits, but used the same footwear, rather than an oft-used mechanism of similar colors/styles, to show character personality;  my own explanation is that I wear the same pair of sneakers every day, unless on pain of penalty).  This I shall not do, although their comments were received by me, a former criminal lawyer turned legal studies academic criminologist and sociologist, with great interest.

Instead, I am going to write about the film through my own (academic) eyes.  Like screenwriter Haneke, I had a family matter which influenced my life and my work – for over 20 years, my father had Huntington’s Disease, an early midlife onset and relentlessly degenerative neurological disorder (now popularized in discussions in a storyline in the television show, House), which drew me to the questions of medical euthanasia and assisted suicide. Before anyone assumes that I am automatically in favor, I have written at length, in an introduction to a piece referred to as the “Bitter Pill,” about the experience I had when my partner, in CCU during the latter part of my year doing my master’s in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, nearly died, and I balked at his demand that I do to him what I had wanted done for me,* a game changing experience, to be sure, as the surviving partner wryly comments.  (Yet another game changer was when I assertively underwent genetic testing in an early study at  London’s Institute for Neurology, only to learn that the illness I had assumed would be killing me by my 40s was nowhere to be found in my genetic makeup, thus making me question whether I was a suitable person to write of my family illness, since resolved with an answer in the affirmative, after discussion with sociological, legal and biomedical advisors and, of course, the people in my life).

Thus it is that in watching and contemplating Amour, I found myself looking back at sets of families whom I had studied in my doctoral and subsequent academic work.  Family members in medical euthanasia cases, such as Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian (whose trials I attended and compared in my PhD for the LSE) did not view themselves as secondary victims (the decedent being the primary victim), but, on the whole, as family members grateful for a service that ended the suffering of their beloved.  Some became pro-assisted suicide and medical euthanasia activists, such as the daughter of one of Kevorkian’s patients/victims/clients, who not only went on the lecture circuit, but who told me in an interview that she took instruction (after her mother’s own death) as to how to help end the life/suffering of others, by, among other things, hoarding Seconal (in the years before Oregon and Washington State allowed for this as a legitimate medical prescription to effect death with dignity for patients with imminently terminal illnesses, who were enduringly requesting that their lives be medically ended by physician assisted suicide).

In the end, this film is an extension of true-life end-of-life film making such as that of The Sea Inside (2004).  However, unlike that film, in which “many hands” were employed to effect the death of quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro (who unsuccessfully fought and sued in Spain so as to be able to receive medical euthanasia and “the right to die with dignity”), in Amour, there was unquestionably only one set of hands involved in Anne’s death – that of Georges.  It was an interesting, and perhaps unsatisfying (to the American viewer) writing and directorial choice that the audience is not shown or told (via after notes) what happened to Georges after he takes Anne’s life.  Did he commit suicide? Was he arrested and prosecuted, as was Georgia’s Carol Carr (2002), who shot and killed her two 40-something year old sons as they lay side by side, with advanced Huntington’s Disease, in a nursing home in Georgia (after which her felony murder and malice murder indictment was reduced to assisted suicide, effectively with time served and felony probation – as long as she did not live with her surviving son, who also had Huntington’s Disease)? Was he simply left to live out the remainder of his life (in Amour, there is a suggestion that he starved himself to death, which might perhaps be viewed as either the consequence of extreme grief or as suicidal, after he took Anne’s life, though the audience does not see Georges when the police break into the apartment)  in mourning for his beloved wife, whom he cared for through surgeries and strokes until she was end-stage, all-the-while honoring her wish that she not be placed in a hospital (which I liken to the case of Merian Frederick, one of the women for whose assisted suicide Jack Kevorkian was tried and acquitted in 1996)?  Did he ultimately live and find a bereavement support group (such as “Survivors,” as the Kevorkian family members call themselves)?  And, conversely, assuming that one agrees with the mercy killing (which I neither endorse nor condemn here) did Georges “wait too long,” as one might wonder in the wake of the January 13, 2013 euthanasia of middle-aged deaf twin Belgian brothers, who were going blind and horrified that they would never see one another again, thus choosing the time and manner of their deaths, which were lawfully effected by hospital medical staff.

Haneke’s central question is how to manage the suffering of someone you love (and Georges does so heroically and stoically through heart illness, two strokes and severe degeneration to near persistent vegetative state).  In seeking to answer this, he opens another – how to manage and support the needs of the caregiver who is experiencing social isolation to the point of social death, along with the needs of caring for someone in escalating medical need.

* "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Are Doctors' Duties when Following Patients' Orders a Bitter Pill to Swallow?", in G. Howarth and P. Jupp (eds.), Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Death, Dying and Disposal, Macmillan, Inc. (1996).

Demetra M. Pappas holds a JD from Fordham Law School, an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a PhD from the Department of Law and the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics.  Her doctoral dissertation was entitled, The Politics of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: A Comparative Case Study of Emerging Criminal Law and the Criminal Trials of Jack ‘Dr. Death’ Kevorkian.  This ethnographic study had an entire chapter devoted to issues pertaining to families and interviews of family members of decedents (whether denominated patients, victims or clients).  Her first book, Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America :The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, (Greenwood Press,  2012) (100 year study of US and UK  doctors prosecuted for medical euthanasia/assisted suicide and role of media, in which she pointedly takes a neutral stance, and invites readers to draw their own conclusions) came out in September 2012.  She is currently on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named SGA Faculty Member of the Year in 2011/2012. 

The Dungeon in San Juan’s Fort San Cristobal

Nickie Phillips

Guest post by Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD Included in the San Juan National Historic Site is Fort San Cristobal, also known as the Castillo de San Cristobal.  This originated as a Spanish fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico to protect against attacks on the city.  Today, the 27-acre is part of a standard day trip city tour, and has guided tours by park personnel. There is something to see (or, actually, to have some difficulty seeing) other than the breathtaking harbor and city views, tunnel systems and exhibits of authentic military attire.  There is a dungeon.

As a cub criminal defense attorney in Mineola (Nassau County, New York), I would spend my lunch times conferring with incarcerated clients who had been brought to the holding cells of the County Courthouse. Accused defendants, court officers, legal aid lawyers and public defenders alike had to contend with an onslaught of bright lights, clanking sounds, shouting prisoners, unsavory smells.  During this time, defendants would dine on baloney sandwiches and lawyers would whisper with clients through bars.

It was with this in mind that I took special interest in the dungeon at San Cristobal.  In this dark, isolated place, some 287 prisoners were kept – one at a time.  All but 3 committed suicide in 10-90 days (and according to our guide, a fair number did not last the first night, recollecting the daily bet depicted in the film The Shawshank Redemption, minus the socialized cohort of prisoners).

I note that our guide took us into the 12-foot long holding cell and then briefly walked out and clanged the metal bar door shut.   The immediate sweltering heat (back in the day, when a cherry wood door was used, the sealed entombment was believed to have reached well over 100 degrees at any one time) was stifling, the darkness unsettling (even with dimmed emergency lights) and the sense of isolation engulfing – even though there were a half-dozen colleagues present.  Everyone reached for their bottled water – several thought of the guide’s comment that subsistence was a half a loaf of bread and “some” water each day.

Only three men survived this diabolical dungeon, expressly used as a living death penalty box for the felonious. One was a British army captain, who survived 10 years. The second was a Spanish spy, who adjusted to the dark sufficiently to begin creating “organic” paints from the cell and painting a mural (which survives, ironically, due to the lack of light exposure) during his 15 years.  The third was a cardinal of Spain who had stabbed and killed a 16-year-old girl, precipitating a scandal that angered the King to the point of imposing the extraordinary imprisonment for this former cleric, who survived some 21 years.

As for the other 284 prisoners, all kept one-by-one in isolation, who committed suicide? They did so by running the 12-foot length of the dungeon and slamming their heads into the fort wall. Cruel and inhuman punishment, indeed.

For more information or to arrange a visit, go here.

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.

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.

The Exonerated: Theater Speaks the Words of Life Before and After Death Row

Nickie Phillips

20121115-102516.jpg Guest Post by Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD

Ten years ago, a play called The Exonerated had its premiere in New York at the Culture Project. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, two actors/writers/directors wrote and adapted the documentary study of six Death Row inmates who had been exonerated, post-conviction, while awaiting execution; a seventh inmate, never seen in the play, is the husband of the sole female exoneree. In 2002, this was an ambitious undertaking, told as a staged reading.

The moving drama told, in an interwoven way, the stories of how the six were arrested, charged, tried, convicted and finally exonerated. As a former appellate lawyer whose work was in representing indigent defendants on appeal (in other words, after they had been convicted of the crime/s charged and while serving sentence), I can tell you that writing one such narrative can be challenging, let alone a half dozen, I had occasion to learn why the late Professor Abraham Abramovsky, my criminal law/procedure professor at Fordham University School of Law, said that the single most frightening case is that of the “innocent man,” because of the profundity of the consequences of conviction. While engaged in practice, I in fact represented a truly innocent man on appeal, Hoc Thai Vu, who had been tried and convicted of a shooting murder in the second degree based upon flimsy evidence, but told in flashes by some 22 witnesses. There was weak evidence of flight (in fact, the 21-year-old Hoc called people to take him to the airport in New York, pick him up in California, get tickets to Disneyland, in short, to do all of the activities most of us associate with a vacation over Labor Day weekend, which it was). There was evidence of animus between Hoc and the decedent (a hoodlum and extortionist who surely had many others with animus against him), and the purported eyewitness testimony of but one person of the Asian community to allegedly witness the killing (from the back of a van which had no windows in the rear, yet who inexplicably testified about my client’s distinctive shirtsleeves, which literally incredible testimony the original trier of fact in this bench trial somehow gave credence to).

As I read the transcript, I grew more and more appalled and wrote a brief which parsed each witness from friends to enemies to the police (the only non-Asian people to testify). I argued the case at the Appellate Division with an advanced case of tracheobronchitis, sounding entirely like Minnie Mouse, prompting the late jurist, Theodore Roosevelt Kupferman, to suggest that I go home and have a nice hot cup of tea; in my feverish state, I retorted that I would go home as soon as the bench reversed my client’s wrongful conviction (when I began clerking across the hall from him a few months later, this was a never ending source of teasing from the judge, who was benignly tolerant of this sass when I was in court). Unbeknownst to me at the time, the five soon-to-be unanimous judges were almost as appalled as I was; this I know because after the court reversed the conviction of my client (based upon lack of sufficient evidence) in People v. Hoc Thai Vu, 146 A.D.2d 545 (N.Y. App. Div., First Dep’t, 1989), another judge on the panel, John Carro, effectively stole me from the legal aid office for which I had been writing and arguing briefs. If it was challenging to seek the exoneration of Hoc, of one person, imagine doing the research for multiple wrongfully convicted people. While Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen had the information that the people whose cases they were studying had already been exonerated (or, in effect, proven innocent, despite their wrongful convictions), they commenced a study of great depth. They interviewed some 40 people over the phone and 20 people in person, before deciding on these six compelling voices to demonstrate the words of transcripts, court papers, and other documents. The stories of the six interviewees(some of whom now perform as themselves) formed what they call the “core of The Exonerated.” (Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, “A Note from the Playwrights,” in the program of The Exonerated, presented by the Culture Project, in Association with the Innocence Project et al.) Having studied five independent trials (including two double trials, for a total of seven cases tried, under differing prosecutorial theories of the case, as well as both common law and statutory prosecutions) of the prosecutions against Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian (in other words, seven cases unrelated except for the fact of the same defendant) during the same time period, in order to obtain my PhD, I can attest that it is ambitious to try such a project, though eminently rewarding to see it carried through to the end.

This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Culture Project’s first production, The Exonerated honors the returns to grace of 6 exonerated Death Row prisoners (as well as the previously executed husband of exoneree Sunny Jacobs), who was electrocuted in a grotesque malfunctioning of that method). Primarily played by a rotating cast of A-list actors, on the night I saw it, the actual Sunny Jacobs (whose husband, Jesse, was wrongfully executed), played herself in the staged reading. That this tiny, optimistic little jewel of a woman survived and now thrives is testament to the human spirit. The stories and experiences of the six compelling voices demonstrate the words of transcripts, court papers, and other documents, as well as the original interviews.

Bob Balaban directs again, and shows that he has not lost his touch since directing and producing the original Off-Broadway hit production of The Exonerated, which won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, awards and then went on to take the Fringe First Award.

The person with whom I attended the performance, made an interesting comment with regard to the lighting design of Tom Ontiveros. Her comment was that as bits of the stories were told, lights would be turned on to show the speaker, while all the others were in pitch black. Her comment was that she felt that she was on the edge of her seat, because the stories were not themselves intertwined, and since not all of any one story was told at once, the lighting kept her on the edge of her seat, captivated. This visual response was as profound as that of anyone focused upon the words and the demeanors of the speakers, if actors, and perhaps more profound when the speaker was the actual exoneree.

Blank and Jensen note that the work is not yet over – when they conducted the original interviews, there were 89 people who had been exonerated from death row, but “as of this writing [of the 2012 “Note of the Playwrights”] there are now 297” exonerees.

What was left for me to tell a friend, who has had a lifelong interest in dramaturgical representations, was that after she said grace at the Thanksgiving table, she ought to get tickets to see The Exonerated at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street, the production is currently slated to close December 3, 2012.

Occupy Wall Street: From Marginalized and Criminalized to Mainstream Arts at The One Year Anniversary

Nickie Phillips

Guest Post by Demetra M. Pappas JD, MSc, PhD

One year ago, New Yorkers considered the word “occupy” as relating to real estate or landlord-tenant law.  The word “occupant” or “occupier” was generally a reference for use by police (especially in vehicular searches), lawyers and jurists in the criminal justice system, and (in civil proceedings) insurance claims and law.  That was all before Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement of the “99%” (regular people) as against the 1% (wealthy CEOs, CFOs, members of the banking and stock markets, the ultra-rich).

On September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street introduced a new phrase to the vocabulary, a new concept to most Americans, who have not seen the level of protest in the past year since the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era, which predates the birth of most college (and many graduate) students.  The protests against social and economic inequality resulted in an encampment in the financial district’s Zuccotti Park.

On September 18, 2012, Andrew Ross Sorkin published a front-page article in the “Business Day” section of The New York Times, entitled “Occupy Wall Street:  A Frenzy that Fizzled.”   Sorkin opened his piece saying that “[Occupy Wall Street] will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all.”    Sorkin contended that “now, 12 months later, it can and should be said that Occupy Wall Street was – perhaps this is going to sound indelicate – a fad.”  With all due respect to Sorkin and the Grey Lady, I disagree – Occupy became a national and international movement of civil disobedience, had consequences in the criminal justice system for both occupiers and policing/prosecuting authorities, and became a topic of discussion from classroom to dinner table to water cooler. It was, in short, internationally and locally relevant.

In addition, there have been examples from international art shows to the current Broadway season as to both the visuals and the vocabulary of Occupy moving from the marginalized to the mainstream;  this in and of itself is axiomatically a cultural shift.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel in California and in Germany, where I saw some of the more famous Occupy areas in an unplanned way; that is to say that the trips were pre-planned, but that the opportunity to see other Occupy sites was something I requested along the way.  This accidental (or opportunistic) cross-cultural study led me to write a visual sociology blog, entitled, “The Overlapping Geographies of Occupy and the Arts,” appeared earlier this month in Social Shutter post What I noticed most was that the Oakland (California) Art and Soul Festival of August 4-5, 2012 was replete with music (four stages from indy to blues), stalls for standard festival snacks (and also soul food), had ample accommodations for the disabled and handicapped to have preferential seating arrangements at the stages (and easy ingress and egress given by cheerful security and law enforcement, who showed great community for the disabled, rather requiring visitors to go around to formal exits).

In other words, I saw a well-organized and welcoming event, devoid of any of the deviance (by either occupiers or law enforcement authorities) reported on at length on by Jonathan Mahler in his piece entitled “The World of Anti-Capitalism,” on August 5th, 2012 in The New York Times Magazine.  Mahler wrote that “Oakland is the spiritual birthplace of the Occupy movement and maybe the only place where it’s still wreaking havoc” (p. 37).   My initial disagreement with this statement is that Occupy Oakland began its protest on October 10, 2011 by creating an encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. This was cleared out amidst violence and 100 arrests on October 25, 2011, with ongoing ensuing chaos for months, including (among other things) strikes, a City Hall break in and takeover. (As an aside, I should say that I clerked for the first Puerto Rican man to take the appellate bench in New York State, and he oft reminisced about one of his proudest moments – helping to organize and participate in a 1960-something sit in at Columbia, a college which he did not attend himself, which would have cast him – in the current day – as a potentially prosecutable miscreant, rather than a bona fide occupier; such a suggestion would have appalled the activist that became the jurist). Oakland certainly has a complicated history, both of economic disenfranchisement and of political activism;  however, on the date the article appeared, I can attest that there was no havoc being wrought, that the people of Oakland were out in a pleasant communion, both citizen and cop.

I read another  article barely 48 hours after the Oakland piece, also in The New York Times, by Jack Ewing, “Occupy Frankfurt Camp is Closed as Health Hazard,” (Tuesday, August 7, 2012, p. A6), regarding the clearing of Occupy in Frankfurt, a city I was scheduled to – and did -- visit later the same month.  The article pointedly reported that the tent city, at the doorstep of the European Central Bank (which I thought to be fascinating living visual symbolism of marginalization by members of the 99% relating to the 1%) was closed only after months of tolerance and court litigation by protesters, who “argued with police, beat drums and played loud rap music, but there appeared to be no physical confrontation” (Id.).  Ewing’s article compared Frankfurt’s camp – and its clearing for reasons of hygiene and health hazard – favorably with the clearing earlier in the year in New York (and let us not even discuss the Oakland Occupy clearing efforts, notoriously mishandled).  During my visit to Frankfurt, I pointedly asked to see the Occupy site. What one local businessman told me was that Occupy Frankfurt had rules, which it well-enforced, with Occupy equivalents of Neighborhood Watch.  Again, the German businessman – who had not read the NYT piece, articulated that the central reason for the clear out was hygienic, with a secondary reason that some non-political miscreants had gravitated to the site to engage in unlawful drug use and similar conduct – something that the occupiers themselves found unacceptable.  As something of an irony, on the day we drove past, en route to another city, there were still some Occupy tents and citizenry, seemingly peaceably assembled.  Perhaps even more instructive was that this was in the midst of Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment Festival (which I likened in another piece to New York’s Museum Mile having been placed on the banks of the East River, with music stations, culinary eateries and artisanal stalls set up a mile on either side of the river, with mansion and museum gardens also opened to the pubic for the purpose), though some distance from the embankment arts and museums sites.

Even more embracing of the Occupy movement and its occupiers was the German city of Kassel, which hosts the experimental arts festival dOCUMENTA from June through September every fifth year (and has done so since 1955). It was in this location that Occupy and art merged, where Occupy saw the marginalized about the mainstream.  A docent told me that one of the primary questions sought to be presented in dOCUMENTA (perhaps the biggest art festival in the world) is whether something is art.  In Friedrichsplatz, the main square, where the infamous “hole in the ground” (not visible as anything other than a small circle within the concrete of the square) is located, there were Occupy tents.  In addition, there was a series of some 20 small (knee high, two five year old child-wide), perfectly constructed tents with single words or phrases on them (my particular favorite, perhaps as a former criminal lawyer, was “abuse of power"). Virgilio Pelayo, Jr., of dOCUMENTA 13, confirmed that the miniature Occupy Art tents were created by the Occupy Camp. A docent in Kassel, Lutz Kirchner, a docent who is also an artisan, kindly translated information for me, to the effect that additional artistic tents were constructed as “thanks to the curator and as a friendly art.” The same document cites Dr. Alexander Beck as noting that the Occupy art was meant to be part of a theme of destruction and reconstruction.  Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the Artistic Director and Curator of dOCUMENTA 13 was especially welcoming of Occupy art – indeed, the Rome/Kassel/New York based artist announced herself as inviting “the participants of the movement to take care of the place and to take responsibility for the space that they have the right to occupy, and to respect the people of the city of Kassel and the visitors of the documentation, in the secular spirit of the rise and becoming” (Press Release as translated by Lutz Kirchner, September 8, 2012).

As for New York, is there cultural recall on the occasion of the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street? Yes, there were protests, yes, there were arrests. However, there was also artistic rendition of occupy in New York in the Broadway rendition of cheerleader movie Bring It On; in the revised and reconstructed Broadway show, an “evil” and manipulative wealthy suburban cheerleader named “Eva” (played with delicious delinquency by Elle McLemore) triumphantly (and deliberately politically incorrectly) cries out “I am the 1 %!”  As for the audience, it collapsed with laughter – at the 1%, not as part of it, and plot development clearly constructed Eva as the malefactor.

Occupy Wall Street has become indelibly inked into the mainstream presence of arts and performance institutions – no disrespect to Andrew Ross Sorkin, but this reflects format, not fizzle.

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she was named the SGA Faculty Member of the Year for 2011/2012. She writes about criminal law, criminal justice, visual sociology, culinary culture, theater and the arts and historical matters, among other things. Her first book, “Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America:  The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate,” (Greenwood Press) came out in September 2012.  She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @DemetraPappas.

Terror Behind the Walls: Eastern State Penitentiary

Nickie Phillips


Guest Post by Gennifer Furst, William Paterson University The “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted Halloween-themed attraction at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is so scary because the building itself is frightening.  Its imposing Gothic-style archetecture is terrorfying on a regular day.  When it’s decorated for Halloween and the goal is to scare visitors – the place becomes downright creepy.

Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) looks like it was dropped down into the middle of the city – actually it is located in what has become northwestern Philadelphia (on Fairmont Avenue at 20th Street) and the city grew around it. The facilty opened on October 23, 1829 and was designed to change inmates with solitary confinment.  The Pennsylvania System of confinement was conceived by Quakers who believed the approach was more civilized than the corporal punishment that was common at the time.  Under the Pennsylvania model, inmates remained isolated from each other and the world, providing them with time to reflect, or ask for penance, for their wrongs. The approach made Eastern State a penitentiary. In solitary cells inmates were limited to reading the Bible and engaging in small handicraft activities. The earliest prison programs came from penitentiaries and a need to teach inmates to read the Bible. Because of high rates of illiteracy, literacy programs were developed in order to facilitate inmates’ understanding of the religious materials that would lead to their reform. The approach used in Philadelphia was in competition with what was occurring in upstate New York, at Auburn State Prison.  Under the Auburn, or congregate system, inmates worked together in prison shops during the day but were not permitted to speak to each other.  They worked in silence, walked the prison halls in lockstep and returned to single cells to sleep at night.

The penitentiary has a wagon wheel design with seven original cellblocks radiating from the center rotonda like the spokes of a wheel. Additional cellblocks were built over the years when the prison ran out of room for inmates. Designed to hold 420 people, by 1926 ESP held 1,700.

When inmates entered the central rotunda of the prison a hood was placed over their heads and they were spun around so they would have no sense of direction. They were walked down the long corridor and placed inside a cell. Once inmates entered the facility, they would have no contact with any other inmates. On the rare occassions when they did leave their cells, inmates wore hoods so they would not see others. Cells had small slots where the inmates would receive their meals through the doors. Each cell had its own small exercise yard connected to the rear of the cell. Designed so inmates truly had minimal human contact, ESP was actually one of the first buildings in the United States to have indoor plumbling. At the time, the penitentiary cost nearly $800,000, making it one of the most expensive structures of its time.

In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville and his friend Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to investigate and then report their findings about how the young country of American delivered punishment. Tocqueville’s explorations of American society were published in his well-known work “Democracy in America”.  During their nine months of traveling they visited Sing Sing Prison in New York where the Auburn model was used and ESP.  Tocqueville described the model as both “the mildest and most terrible ever invented” (Damrosch, 2010, p.123).

A decade later, in 1842, Charles Dickens’ travels from England to North America were published in his “American Notes” (1842, 2004).  Describing his visit to ESP he concluded that the “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body” (p. 111).  He wrote with great certainty that it would be “better to have hanged him at the beginning [of his sentence] than bring him to this pass” as any released man would return to society “unhealthy and diseased” (p. 121).  He left the prison convinced the silent system of New York was a more humane and less damaging alternative to what was happening at ESP.

The isolation model of ESP was ultimately beat out by the congregate Auburn system for a number of reasons. Complete isolation, as at Eastern State, required more space and more staff to oversee inmates spread out over a large facility. Increased space resulted in greater costs for building and maintaining the facilities. And with inmates only able to engage in small handicraft activities in their individual cells, the Auburn model was associated with a greater output of products for the state’s profit.

While the Auburn model won the battle against the Pennsylavania model, contemporary punishment does use the practices originated at ESP.  Commonly referred to as “the hole” – isolation is common inside carceral facilities today.  The solitary confinement conditions at ESP were also the origins of today’s super-max prisons where inmates live under 23-hour lockdown.

Several famous inmates have also helped keep ESP infamous.  Al Capone served eight months from 1929 to 1930, his first prison sentence.  He was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon.  His cell was significantly more comfortable than most with its Oriental rugs, Tiffany lamps, and even a radio.  Pep the dog was sentenced to life by Governor Gifford Pinchot on August 12, 1924.  According to some stories, Pep had killed the governor’s wife’s cat, while according to other accounts, the governor donated Pep, who was his dog, to the prison in order to increase morale inside the facility.

The building was abandoned in 1971 and allowed to deteroriate and fall into disrepair. The first Halloween-themed event occurred on October 31, 1991 as a fund raiser. Outisders have been allowed to tour the site since 1994. Visitors were required to wear hard hats until the structure of the overall prison was considered sufficiently stabilized in 2003 and sign liability waivers until 2008.

The spooky structure of ESP portrays a mental institution in “12 Monkeys” (1996) with Bruce Willis and a Southeast Asian prison in “Return to Paradise” (1998) with Vince Vaughn.  Music videos, including those by by Tina Turner (“One of the Living” in 1985) and The Dead Milkmen (“Punk Rock Girl” in 1988) were also filmed inside ESP.

“The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, available since 2003, is narrated by Steve Buscemi who is widely recognized as portraying diabolical criminals in movies such as “The Usual Suspects” (1995).

If you choose to visit ESP for the “Terror Behind the Walls” be prepared to be more scared than ever before…

Go here to schedule your visit to "Terror Behind the Walls" at Eastern State Penitentiary

Dr. Gennifer Furst received her doctorate from CUNY Graduate Center/John Jay College.  She is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at William Paterson University of New Jersey where she is also the Director of the Criminal Justice Program.  Her research interests include incarceration, punishment policy, and drugs and crime. 


Damrosch, L. (2010). Tocqueville’s discovery of America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Dickens, C. (1842/2004). American notes.  New York: Penguin Books.

Online 360 Tour of Eastern State


Inside Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls

Behind the Doors of Our Communities and Nursing Homes: The Hidden Mistreatment and Abuse of Our Elderly

Nickie Phillips

Guest Post by Lillian Jeter, expert witness and consultant in elder abuse cases

Behind the doors of our communities throughout America lies a hidden shame as well as daily criminal acts called elder abuse. These crimes are committed against our most vulnerable and dependent elderly: those with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, those unable to walk, those who are bedridden, and those with no one to cry out to in their pain.

Even more horrific are the abuse and neglect which occur in the “sanitized” corridors of the for-profit nursing homes throughout the country. Representing about 3-5% of older persons, this small representation is the most vulnerable and most dependent due to physical, mental, and disabling conditions, where “home” is now one room in a facility with oftentimes little or no visitation.

While not everyone at home with a caregiver or in a facility is being abused, the national data indicates that at least 6% of all older persons are being, or have regularly been, abused in a given year – oftentimes on a daily basis. Since it is known that many acts of abuse go unreported, this percentage is likely much higher.

Acts of abuse fall into five separate major categories: physical, psychological, neglect, sexual, and financial exploitation. In the cases that I have investigated, more often than not, a single victim is subject to several forms of abuse on a regular basis.

Who are the Abusers?

When one mentally conjures up an abuser in their mind, a picture of a stranger who is dirty, smelly, and physically overpowering comes to mind – someone with bad teeth, smelly breath, and greasy hair. This type of portrayal could not be further from the truth of what a real abuser looks like.

Abusers are adult children – both female and male – as well as the victim’s own husband or wife. Abusers are other family members who are now caring for their dependent aunt, uncle or relative. Abusers are close friends who now have power of attorney and/or guardianship or in some cases, professionals who have handled the victim’s finances/legal affairs/ or other professional service for years. Abusers in nursing homes can and often are other residents but also cloak themselves in the air of authority as registered nurses, LPNs, and direct care aides.   One step removed, we find Directors of Nursing, Managers, and Owners failing to report the crime to the police and/or to proper federal and state authorities.

Thus abusers are those with power and control over the dependent older victim – power to give or take away, power to assault or not, power to improperly obtain monies, power to psychologically abuse the victim as well as failure to bathe, allow to go to the toilet, and/or sexually assault or molest.

We all scream out in disgust about children who are molested and abused, but where is the similar cry about our dependent elderly in these same types of conditions and subject to horrific criminal acts? Where is the justice for these victims whose cries of pain are stifled and who have no one to call for help?  Where is the justice for those who are suffering from late stages of dementia, who are easy prey to sexual predators, and who suffer indignities day in and day out without being believed? Where is their justice and protections under the law?

I respect all of your responses and encourage you to join into this discussion.

Lillian Jeter pic

Lillian Jeter is a former law enforcement commander who uncovered a case of elder abuse and neglect in 1985 that changed the nation’s whole perspective on the mistreatment of vulnerable older persons. Lillian serves as a consultant in elder abuse cases internationally and provides expert witness testimony in civil and criminal cases. 

Further Reading:

National Council for Aging Care's Guide to Recognizing Elder Abuse and Knowing Your Rights

National Center on Elder Abuse

Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse

University of California, Irvine - School of Medicine

The Neglect of Elder neglect as a White-Collar Crime: Distinguishing Patient Neglect from Physical Abuse and The Criminal Justice System's Response by Payne, Blowers & Jarvis, Justice Quarterly, 2012

Inclusion, accessibility and justice: equal rights for all

Nickie Phillips

Guest Post by Dr. Aviva Twersky Glasner, Ph.D., Criminal Justice Researcher and Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University, Massachusetts My 16 year old son was born profoundly deaf. I knew it right after he was born, it’s weird because there are no other deaf people in my family but call it a mother’s instinct or something because I knew. Getting my husband and the pediatricians on board was more of a struggle. I kept hearing “Oh Mrs. Glasner, you’re just comparing him to your daughter and everyone knows boys are slower than girls” or “Don’t be silly-you sound like you want him to be deaf.” I truly didn’t care if he was deaf or not, I loved him no matter what. He was finally “officially” diagnosed when he was 14 months old and then we got the onslaught of advice from doctors, audiologists and “hearing specialists.” I am ashamed to say that I was swayed into consenting for him to get a cochlear implant but I remained adamant that he would get and appropriate deaf education. He never took to the implant and resisted quite strenuously. After 5 years of this struggle I said to his teachers, “how would you have taught him 20 years ago when cochlear implants didn’t exist? Give him a deaf education and let him communicate in sign!!! He never wore that fecockta (pardon my Yiddish) thing again. He is now going to an ASL intensive school for the Deaf in Massachusetts and doing very well. He is growing into a fine young man.

The impetus for the present study started when I was doing my doctoral dissertation research on Deaf and Hard of Hearing prison inmates. I learned some interesting things about deafness and language and exclusion from “hearing” society. The thing that really launched this present study was a moment of clarity I had a few months ago. I was going with my son to Panera to get him some bagels when I had this image of the two of us in 30 years, still going to Panera, me ordering for him as always. I became upset and thought, how can I get him to order his own bagels? How can I get him to interact with the hearing world, since he is a member of a linguistic minority? It puzzled me and still does. Because I am a Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology researcher and professor, of course, I took it a step further and wanted to know how D/deaf and Hard of Hearing adults interact with the justice system. How do you call the police for help? What do you do when you are stopped by the police? Do they know you’re deaf? Do they have ridiculous expectations of you reading their lips? Do you get the interpreter that you are entitled to? That’s why I am doing this research-I want to know more about your lives in the larger hearing world.

For a video clip illustrating the potential problems that may occur between D/deaf adults and the police, go here.

For more information, and to participate in Dr. Twersky Glasner’s study, go here.

You may contact Dr. Twersky Glasner directly at

Roma and the police at a pilgrimage site in Slovenia

Nickie Phillips


My study of a police program which aims to foster better relations between police officials and the Roma minority in Slovenia continues, along with with Emanuel Banutai, Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of Maribor, and Susanne Duque of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  The Roma, who make up approximately 2 percent of the population in Slovenia, have historically been discriminated against and treated poorly by social and political institutions, not unlike in many places in Europe.  The program started in 2005 as a joint training program in which police learn about aspects of Roma culture and language from Roma leaders and discuss policing Roma in the context of human rights and democracy.  Since then, it has had the fortuitous effect of forging a wider relationship between Roma leaders and police officials in a way that has encouraged dialogue in preventing violence and conflicts between Roma and non-Roma and among the Roma themselves. For three days last week, Emanuel and I observed the police in Brezje, in the northwest Gorenjska region, work with Roma who had arrived from around the country, Italy, and Austria, as part of an important annual Catholic pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Virgin (Marija pomagaj).  The Roma set up camp in Brezje, and nearby in the village of Ĉrnivec, days ahead of time, enjoying family, friends, paying homage to the Virgin Mary, and even having pig roasts.  This is in contrast to other Catholics who arrive only on the day of the main mass, August 15.  The annual Roma camps cause resentment among local Slovenians who feel imposed upon by the huge influx of people camping in public parks, where normally camping is prohibited, and even on private land.  Souvenir stand owners complain of Roma having “long fingers” (stealing).  In addition, conflicts between Roma clans become exacerbated as rivals are in close proximity to each other in the camps.  This year, though, was calmer than most, by all accounts.

During the three days, Emanuel and I were able to roam among the camps and talk to Roma about their experience of the pilgrimage and their perception of the police on bike, car and foot patrols keeping order and keeping the peace.  We met up with the police inspector who heads the effort to improve police ties with the Roma, who shared with us the details of two behind-the-scene conflicts he was working on: angry local people who felt some Roma came too early to the event and camped in the wrong places based on a prior agreement, and the brewing retaliation by one clan whose member was stabbed recently by a person from another clan.

Due to the efforts of the police program over the last five years, the police inspector has come to be regarded as a mediator and spent many hours during the pilgrimage talking with all parties involved in these flashpoints.  In addition, the police chaplain, the only police official who is permitted to officially cooperate with the church (Slovenia has a strict notion of the separation of church and state) was on hand to problem-solve with him.

In the end, no violent incidents occurred at this year’s pilgrimage.  This is in stark contrast to a decade ago.  In talking with Roma campers, we learned that violence was common at the pilgrimage, and one Roma woman even recalled a small battle between two clans that involved a couple hundred people.   Such incidents created a reputation around Slovenia that these Roma pilgrimage events were mayhem.  A Slovenian journalist covering this year’s activities could hardly believe it was running as smoothly as the police told him it was.  A Roma woman said that things were much calmer in the last couple of years and that she did not mind it that the police dropped by just to talk.  A Roma man told us that chatting with police was unheard of twenty years ago, when under the former regime police treated the Roma roughly.

During the three days, we also connected with church officials who we learned had their own initiative.  A priest from the Dolenjska had become concerned about the plight of Roma and two years ago devoted his ministry to them.  He was also camping with the Roma, bathing like them in cold water from buckets, a fact that impressed many young Roma.  For the last two years, the church has provided the Roma with their own procession and short mass the day before the main one, in a Romani dialect used in the Dolenjska region.  They also provide prayer cards and a children’s book of Bible stories in the dialect.  Before this, the priest explained that nothing was done for the Roma and they existed very much on the fringes of the Brezje pilgrimage’s main events.

My favorite event from the pilgrimage was the “blessing of the cars” in which the priest walked from campsite to campsite in his liturgical robe, giving willing participants a prayer for safety and dousing cars and vans with holy water.  From a police studies perspective, what was significant for my colleague and I was the safety message that the priest recited to each group after the prayer.  He reminded everyone to avoid speeding, particularly when children were in the car, and to use seat belts.


As the blessings went on, several children began to follow the priest and he had them help carry his holy water and dousing wand between prayers.  After blessing every Roma vehicle in the camp, one of the children called out “Rashe! Rashe!” (Romany for “priest”) and pointed to two parked police vehicles.  “We haven’t blessed these cars!” The priest, seeing no police officers around to ask, decided to indulge the children and quickly blessed the police cars saying afterwards that this means “These cars won’t come hunting for you because you won’t be doing anything wrong this year, right?” he said.

In increasing daily and positive interactions with the Roma people, both the police and the church have made inroads in reducing some of the friction between Roma and largely non-Roma institutions (there is only one Roma identified police officer and one Roma priest in Slovenia).  Police, Roma, and church officials agree that bitter feelings, conflicts and violence have decreased between Roma and non-Roma and competing Roma clans.  However, societal attitudes do not change overnight.  During our visit, one police officer communicated resentment toward police initiatives hoping to create dialogue with the Roma, saying “I have a strategy for Roma—a left and a right” (meaning a left and right punch).  In fact, though the national police are quite supportive of the Roma initiative, the real thrust of the program’s existence is due to the passion of the police inspector heading the program and the female officer who works with him.  Likewise, in the church, a single priest seems to be the vanguard in bringing the institution more intimately into the lives of Christian Roma.  If for some reason these committed individuals are no longer present, will these initiatives survive?

Further, as a scholar devoted to critical perspectives, I wonder whether the nationalist—and European Union-- framework of “Roma inclusion” can ever truly be reconciled with the radical freedom and non-nationalist identity Roma historically have championed.  These are topics to continue to explore during interviews this week with police officials and Roma leaders in Ljubljana and the Prekmurje region, hoping to come closer to assessing the institutional staying power of the police-Roma initiative in the years to come.

Staci Strobl

In Bahrain Anti-Government Speech is a Crime

Nickie Phillips

The continued detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain reminds crimcast that in many countries, speaking out against the government remains criminalized. According to Front Line Defenders, freedom of expression is actively criminalized not only in Bahrain, but also in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Russia, China, Azerbaijan, and Belarus, among many other nations. Rajab, as President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, made a trip to Lebanon last month where he met with other regional human rights leaders. From there, he allegedly tweeted an insult of a "statutory body" of Bahrain and was arrested on May 7, 2012, upon his return. Originally, his detention on the government defamation charge was slated for a week, but that period has since been extended due to his participation in anti-government protests last January.

Rajab has been one of many opposition leaders in Bahrain who have been peacefully protesting the lack of inclusion of the Shi'a majority underclass in the political and economic life of the island nation located off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. The country is a constitutional monarchy whose Sunni royal family has grown increasingly out of touch with, and unresponsive to, the frustrations of Shi'a and the historical persistence of discrimination against them. Inspired by the Arab Spring, in February 2011, the government opposition gathered around the Pearl Monument in Manama to call for reform. After the monument became a symbol of reform, the government destroyed it. Since then, during government crackdowns that have included Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, at least 70 people have been killed and there have been hundreds of casualties.

The situation in Bahrain is a stalemate with no end to human rights abuses in sight despite credible reporting-- and even an independent human rights commission that documented police torture against opposition leaders. Bahrain is a U.S. ally and site of the headquarter of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet; the U.S. has simply not provided any more than empty lip service to compel Bahrain to shape up its act. Criminalizing peaceful activists with a laudable human rights agenda is a profound violation of basic human rights standards and inconsistent with the U.S.'s self-proclaimed mission to export democracy. Rather than support a democratic grassroots movement in Bahrain whose complaints are credible and well-documented, the U.S. stands idly by, dubiously afraid of Iran and loathe to lose jeopardizing its naval stronghold in the Gulf.

Rajab is just the latest in a long line of pro-democracy Bahraini public figures whose speech has gotten them in criminal trouble. In June 2011, Bahraini poet Ayat al-Ghermezi was arrested for incitement after reciting an original poem publicly. The poem includes the lines “We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice/Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams?" She addressed the poem to King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah and the Prime Minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifah. In addition, blogger Mahmood Al-Yousif, a Sunni who advocates political non-sectarianism, was arrested on March 30, 2011, for writing about the Shi’a opposition in a way perceived by the government as sympathetic to them.

The Bahrain government has recently hired John Timoney, former Miami Police Chief, and John Yates, Former Assistant Commissioner of Britain’s Metropolitan Police, to act as police consultants to control anti-government protesters. It is lamentable that two elite police professionals from democratic countries would throw material support to the problematic operations of a criminal justice system with so many contemporary and on-going human rights violations, a system which is now primarily organized to defend a corrupt state,

Meanwhile, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, serving a life sentence for participating in anti-government protests, has been on hunger strike for over 90 days. His thinning, deteriorating body is unfortunately a perfect metaphor for a country which once had so much potential, yet is currently withering away into the dark recesses of routine government brutality-- but you can't say all this in Bahrain unless you're ready to serve hard time.


The Relevance of the “N” word in the Context of Racist Bumper Stickers Attacking Obama

Nickie Phillips

Guest blog by Dr. Kimora As you know, very racist bumper stickers attacking President Obama with the “N” word have come and gone from the web. However, their impact lingers as we realize that community must be built on love for one another.

The appearance of this obnoxious bumper sticker allows me to reflect on research I did in 2007 at the Osborne Association in the Bronx, New York. As some of you recall, I decided that I had “had enough” when I heard the word “nigger” or “nigga” in the groups that I was teaching at the drug treatment program called “El Rio.” I embarked on a research study that incorporated a focus group, comprised of El Rio clients who, for the most part, knew nothing of the historical, sociological, and political contexts of the “N” word. However, a very amazing moment happened when one of the clients in the study stated, “I won’t ever use the word “nigger” or any word like it again. I get it. That word diminishes us as a group. Is that what you mean, Dr. Kimora?" I got chills.

We need to respect President Obama, even though we may not always agree with him. I am not asking you to vote for him. I am demanding that you and I realize, as you really know in your heart, that NO ONE is a nigger. No one is a nigga. No one is a lazy nigger. No one is that lowly person we choose to ignore.

During the Southern Rural Sociological Association Conference in Orlando, Florida, in February 2010, I stressed the point to my academic colleagues that the “N” word has a strong connotation of personal worthlessness. The “N” word implies racism.

We must strive as a world community to banish any word that belittles us as a nation, or as a world to be the BEST that we can be. We are a community; we are one family.

Kimora is a member of Crimcast's Board of Directors. She is a prison reformer and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Kimora also works as Education Director for Prevention and Treatment Services in the El Rio program at the Osborne Association and earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Minnesota.


Integrating the Peer Review Process with Interactive, Multi-Media iBooks

Nickie Phillips

In her article "Response to 'Dinosaurs of Academia,'" Patricia Collins responds to PJ Rey’s argument that journals are the dinosaurs of academia. Basically, Rey recognizes that print journals are an outdated mode of knowledge transmission and are relied on too heavily in an antiquated, hard-copy “publish or perish” environment. Rey ultimately argues for scholars to embrace technological advances and engage in new media. Patricia Collins countered that the value of a journal does not lie in whether it is in “print,” but rather acknowledges that peer-reviewed work by experts is essential in maintaining academic integrity and sorting out the wheat from the chaff in a media-saturated society.

I find this discussion interesting in the context of new models of content distribution, specifically digital e-books, to students and laypersons. Thus far, digital e-books (including e-textbooks and digital versions of print journals) are basically facsimiles of hard copies that are read through an e-reader that likely has annotation capabilities. There has yet to be a successful merging of new digital technology with “old, traditional” forms of academic knowledge transmission--until now.

Last week, Apple released iBooks 2, a new version of iBooks for the iPad that allows display of textbooks and other books containing multi-media content. And, perhaps more significantly, introduced iBooks Author, an application for the Mac that allows creators to assemble a “Multi-Touch” book that takes full advantage of multi-media content including 3D photos, videos, notecards, presentations, quizzes and other interactive images. The books may be distributed for free, sold through iBooks, or exported to a more static format such as a pdf and distributed freely.

The program is designed specifically for the creation of textbooks and other media-heavy content. So far, iBooks Author has attracted major textbook publishers and there’s certainly a host of uses other than textbooks, such as product manuals and other types of tutorials, where this will be a valuable tool, but I see the potential for educational possibilities here as limitless. These interactive “e-books/textbooks” are the wave of the future in education, whether they are ultimately created by tools such as iBooks Author developed by Apple or a competitor.

But, my interest is in exploring ways of using the tool to distribute educational content such as peer-reviewed books and journals that lend themselves to multi-media content. I’m thinking specifically of journals devoted to the “visual,” featuring topics such as “crime and popular culture” or “crime and the media,” but there are limitless possibilities. For example, we may consider the possibilities for publishing research articles on areas as diverse as crime mapping, CPTED, or the ethnography of subcultures. I’m not suggesting visually-focused media would be appropriate for every criminal justice topic or even replace traditional journals, but they could certainly supplement them. And the research would potentially reach a much larger audience.

Which brings me back to Patricia Collins’ acknowledgement that the peer-reviewed process serves as a means of quality control. Ultimately, I am proposing that scholars fully embrace the inevitable--multi-media digital formats. However, it seems one path worthy of pursuit would be one that fully integrates the peer review process. Of course scholars are always free to self-publish, but why shouldn’t academic knowledge be disseminated in a format that is as advanced as the technology allows?

We now have an opportunity to rethink the boundaries of scholarly publications and take advantage of ways to best engage not just students, but the public, in issues of crime and justice.

*Disclaimer: I am aware of the various complications of this proposal, including proprietary concerns, issues of publishing on iBooks and relying on the Apple approval process, the idea that “everyone” would need to have an iPad to consume the content, and the realization that no other software company has yet come close to providing a means of content creation that is this easy, inexpensive, and widely available etc. However, I’ll leave those discussions for another day.


Race and Social Justice in America: The Journey Continues

Nickie Phillips

Two stories out of the Carolinas this week reminded me that confronting America's legacy of racial injustice is a task that remains on-going. The first was the BBC's coverage of North Carolina's restitution efforts related to its involuntary sterilization program Targeting the poor and minorities, this program operated for several decades starting in the 1950s, sterilizing people who were under state care either in mental institutions or on the welfare dole. The darling strategy of eugenicist governments everywhere-- think the Czechoslovakian communist government's' forced sterilization of the Roma-- also happened to African-Americans in North Carolina. To be fair, this story had legs this week because North Carolina has agreed to pay restitution to the living victims of this crime against humanity-- a measure that the other dozen mostly southern states who had similar programs have not yet done. The second story was today's New York Times piece about the curious case of a black pastor controlling a famous white supremacist shop, the Redneck Shop, in Lauren, South Carolina. Through various machinations forming exactly the southern Gothic tale the headline promises, the Rev. David Kennedy has come to own the property on which stands one of the most well-known retailers of Ku Klux Klan paraphenalia-- yet according to an agreement made between the seller and the original owner of the shop, the original owner's shop could remain as long as he lived. Therefore, Pastor Kennedy, who would like to convert the space into a community center, which "won't be a place for any race to have supremacy," is forced to wait things out. Meanwhile, mostly out-of-towners flock to the store for all their racist retail "needs."

Together, both stories clearly show that America is far from being the post-race nation some would claim in the age of Obama. The current subculture of white supremacy in the south has a viable retail consumption market and the state of North Carolina is only today coming to grips with its sterilization programs used against poor minorities in years past. Far from merely remembering a racist past, Americans must realize the necessity of holding a racial justice orientation as an act of "doing" in the present. The full accounting of racist policies and programs perpetrated in the U.S. remains pending and many of the attitudes and ignorance which led to such policies in the first place are far from eradicated from today's sociopolitical landscape.