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By Melissa McMullen, Project Archivist

Here in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives, we have had a non-stop busy semester. Amongst our day-to-day archival work, we hosted numerous visits by an undergraduate course in the School of Criminal Justice, Dr. Debernee Privott’s Introduction to the Criminal Justice Process. 

This class allows students to explore the process whereby citizens becomes suspects, suspects become defendants, some defendants are convicted, and in turn, become probationers, inmates, and parolees.

Students conduct research in the Marcia Brown Reading Room

Using the Center for Law and Justice (CLJ) Records held in our department, students are researching prisoner intakes and letters as evidence of possible relationships between race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality and intersectionality, and the criminal justice process. They pay special attention to policing, diversion, court administration, sentencing, and community correctional programs. This project allows for analysis of operational practices at the major criminal justice decision stages.

The Center for Law and Justice was founded in 1985 by Dr. Alice Green following the death of Jessie Davis, a young Black man shot and killed by police in his Albany apartment. First called the Albany Justice Center, Inc, the Center is considered one of the strongest advocacy groups in New York State for people adversely affected by the criminal justice system. The CLJ studies and responds to major issues related to criminal justice including racial profiling, community and police relations, parole issues, sentencing, and families of prisoners. The organization aims to address criminal and juvenile justice issues that significantly impact marginalized communities as well as to empower individuals and enact policy change.

The part of the Center for Law and Justice Records that the students are researching is the Prisoner Intakes and Letters series, 1988-1998, which consists of prisoner intake files that primarily contain letters from the prisoners to Alice Green or to her staff. You can also find letters responding to the prisoners’ inquiries and/or needs from Alice Green and her staff. 

Explore the Center for Law and Justice Records

Go to the Archives

The correspondence ranges from letters of introduction, explaining why they were incarcerated in the first place and what services or information they seek from the Center, to Christmas cards. Some of the letters come from family members advocating on behalf of a loved one in prison. Most of those letters are from mothers and wives. The correspondence contains very personal information on the inmates and sometimes on the people they victimized or allegedly victimized, which is why the series is restricted.

The experience began where each discussion session had a dedicated time for research in the department with the materials and the students could seek advice conducting archival research for the first time. From there each student gained the confidence to review and research as needed for their individual projects. Our department welcomes these types of collaborative projects with instructors in conjunction to the materials we hold. We hope to see this course return with a new batch of students ready to dive into the world of archives.

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