[Currents headergraphic]

February 2, 1998

Psychologist Craig Haney urges colleagues to step up to the microphone

By Jennifer McNulty

For psychology professor Craig Haney, fielding a call from National Public Radio's All Things Considered on Christmas Day was all part of being one of the nation's leading experts on capital punishment.

Haney and Harvard law professor Charles Ogeltree were featured in a show about jury decision making in several high-profile capital cases. It was just the latest of a spate of media calls about different aspects of the legal system that Haney, who also has a law degree from Stanford, has recently fielded.

Over the last several months he's been interviewed by the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and the Dallas Evening News about his research on capital punishment and jury decision making. In addition, he participated in a six-part BBC series on the history of imprisonment, was interviewed by CBS News' "Public Eye," Fox News Internet, and the Newark Star Ledger about the psychological effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, and had his study of super-maximum security prisons featured in an article published in the Humanist magazine.

For more than 20 years, Haney has studied the psychological effects of incarceration and the backgrounds of persons convicted of violent crime. His expertise has at times placed him at the center of some high-profile death-penalty and prison cases.

Haney is in a unique position to offer insights about the criminal justice system, having studied the backgrounds and social histories of more than 100 people around the country accused or convicted of capital murder. He has toured and inspected maximum-security prisons in numerous states and has conducted extensive interviews with the people confined in them.

Haney is troubled by our society's unwillingness to look at what he calls "the social-structural" causes of crime, the dehumanizing effects of imprisonment, and to provide adequate and equitable resources to death penalty defendants.

Haney also believes that academics have a special responsibility to assist in the task of public education, particularly with respect to controversial topics like crime and punishment.

Haney believes that the absence of intellectual and academic influence in public discourse about the causes of crime and the price of imprisonment has contributed to the increasingly punitive and costly criminal justice policies our nation has pursued over the last several decades.

"Many people who have studied these issues, who know firsthand the troubling realities of the system that we are rushing to expand and who understand the wrongheadedness of pursuing exclusively punishment-based solutions, have been left out of public debate," said Haney.

Knowledgable academics must play a greater role in shaping the discourse that surrounds these topics.

"Talking to the press is difficult, unglamorous, and unpleasant work," he said. "We are not trained for it and, the more unpopular the opinion we present, the more we are made to feel like we are under attack. Yet, without this kind of effort, we are dooming ourselves to become a society that continues to spend more on its prisons than its educational system."

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