Much as I value my friend David Kennedy, I wish he’d settle for being smarter and handsomer than I am and not insist on also being nicer. He produced what must surely be the perfect response to the “I’m-a-student-please-write-my-term-paper-for-me” email. I much prefer his answer to mine. Note that the student seems to think that sending random questions to scholars constitutes conducting “interviews” as “primary research.”
Full text at the jump, with names changed to protect the guilty.
From: June Spring
Sent: Monday, April 08, 2013
To: David Kennedy
Subject: Research questions
1. I am taking a Criminal Justice course and while doing research for my paper your name came up. I was hoping that you could answer these questions for me. I am trying to find out what is going wrong in corrections and what can be done to fix it. Interviews are my primary research and you seem to be quite knowledgeable when it comes to ideas on how to make our corrections system better. Please feel free to add anything you think may help with my research. I really appreciate this. Thank you.
What in your opinion, is the reason the U.S. has such high recidivism rates? What do you think should be done to fix those problems?
So many crimes are committed while people are under the influence because of an addiction. Do you think this should be taken into consideration during sentencing?
With a criminal justice system that is more punitive than rehabilitative, how does this impact recidivism rates?
What rehabilitative measures should be taken for first time offenders to ensure they do not re-offend?
What do think should be done to make parole more effective?
Which form of corrections (imprisonment, rehab, community corrections, probation, parole) do you think is most effective?
Do you think first time offenders should be given leniency? Why or why not?
What should be done with offenders who are thought to have some form of mental illness?
Do you think mental Illness is properly addressed in our judicial system? Why/why not?
Do you think chemical dependency is properly addressed in our judicial system? Why/why not?
What is the number one problem with our judicial system?
What is the number one problem in our prison system?
Do you think something else can be done with non-violent offenders besides long term incarceration?
Do you feel that prison helps or hurts? Why?
Do you think making a stay in a half-way house mandatory after release from prison would be beneficial to offenders?
Why do you think some parole officers are so lenient?
Do you think it’s possible that the state looks the other way so much because corrections is such big business?
I interviewed an offender and he told me that he feels like he’s set up for failure when he gets out of prison. Do you see where he’s coming from or do you agree?
I’m always encouraged when students show initiative, as by reaching out to do real research with specialists. So I hope what follows will help you, both with your current paper and in general.
-Give the people you’re talking to some more context. I can cover the same ground, for example, with freshmen and post-graduate students, but I do it in different ways. So saying, “My name is April Spring and I’m a junior (or whatever you actually are) at (such and such college, or high school, or whatever) will help me get my bearings.
-Each of the questions below could be a paper on its own (and more; I know people who are spending their entire careers on some of them). If you’re planning on covering all this ground in one research paper, you’ll almost certainly find that it’s too much: you won’t be able to learn about and think about all of that in any real way. Pick one and do it right, or a couple of closely related ones (how should probation deal with non-violent first offenders with substance abuse issues?). From my side, I couldn’t begin to answer them all in an e-mail.
-Specialists, like me, don’t like to be the beginning of somebody’s research process; they like to come in at the point that somebody has done a lot of homework – reading books and journal articles, and the better kind of work you can do on-line – and has learned quite a bit on their own. When people have questions at that point, they’re informed questions, and it’s more interesting and useful both for you and for me. So do the basics first. If you have done that already, let me know. A question that says, for example, “It turns out that intensive supervision probation programs, which combine closer monitoring with a wide range of services, don’t produce lower recidivism than ordinary probation. Why is that and is there an alternative?” shows me that you’ve done your background research and gives me something to work with.
-E-mail is good for a lot of things, but it really isn’t very good for this. A real interview is a kind of conversation between the two people engaged in it. This way we’re both more or less blind. You’ll find that very few people with anything worthwhile to say will answer a long list of questions like this in writing.
-So a better way to do this is to reach out, tell me who you are and what you’re doing, share what you’ve already learned, and let me know that it’s going to be worth both of our whiles to build on that. Then I, and lots of others, will be happy to schedule a phone call and get down to business. If you’d like to do that, let’s give this another shot.