Every seat in Old Main Chapel was occupied on Wednesday, March 30, as Jill McCorkel, sociology and criminology professor at Villanova University, presented her lecture titled “It’s not Prison Reform if We Leave Women and Girls Behind.” The event began with introductions by Allison Carey, SU sociology department chair, and Theresa Ward, sociology senior and department tutor.
In her first public speaking appearance since before the onset of COVID-19, McCorkel told the story of Cynthia Alvarado, a Philadelphia women sentenced to life in prison with no parole for a robbery homicide despite being wrongfully convicted and abused by the criminal justice system. McCorkel, with the help of Villanova students, worked tirelessly to research Alvarado’s case. After over 11 years in prison, Alvarado was released from prison, now a grandmother, her own daughters grown up.
Alvarado’s experience is the reality of many women in the United States which incarcerates more woman than any other country, with the exception of Thailand. Additionally, women in the U.S. criminal justice system often experience abuse and violent retaliation.
The growth of women’s incarceration increased after the 1980s and has stayed steady unlike men’s incarceration which sees peaks and valleys. In fact, 2010 was the first year the general prison population in the U.S. dropped, but that number has continued to grow for women, McCorkel said.
“We can’t figure out the problems of mass incarceration without social science,” McCorkel said of the role of sociology in prison reform.
The lecture concluded with a question-and-answer session in which McCorkel advised those who want a start in prison reform to volunteer and intern with public defenders and attorneys. She also suggested donating to and advocating for The Innocence Project, an organization that assists prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted. Kennedy Holt, freshman, posed a question and statement to McCorkel about the role “adultification” of young black girls has in improper imprisonment to which McCorkel responded, “Mic drop!”
McCorkel wrapped up by telling the audience to pay attention to the case of India Spellman, a woman framed for second-degree murder and robbery, whose exoneration is upcoming in June. McCorkel is the founder and executive director of the Philadelphia Justice project for Women and Girls, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization dedicated to the ending of mass incarceration and gender violence.
This event was hosted by the Departments of Sociology/Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Psychology, Social Work and Gerontology and the Interdisciplinary Minor in Women and Gender Studies.