Major: Political Science, Mathematics
Project Title: “The Criminal Justice Reform Movement in New York: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Faculty Mentor: Professor Olena Nikolayenko
Describe your research project
Prison reform has been a contentious issue in the United States since the eighteenth century. Yet, despite the countless attempts to reform the prison system, many Americans believe that people are put into prisons that are unfit to live in. Punishments on a racial bias, inhumane living conditions, and increased risk of reincarceration are just some flaws of the American prison system. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first reported to have infected a New Yorker in March 2020, inaction by government officials is more troubling than ever before as the virus continues to spread throughout ill-equipped correctional facilities. Many advocates say that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s actions don’t match his redemptive tone.
My research investigates how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the success of the Criminal Justice Reform Movement in New York, specifically regarding Governor Cuomo’s recently proposed Criminal Justice Reform legislation. Drawing on qualitative data from 2018 to 2021 regarding various criminal justice reform advocacy groups and NYS legislation, this analysis uncovers how various criminal justice reform advocacy groups have changed their claim-making as a result of COVID-19. This study contributes to social movement literature by underscoring the importance of claim making in explaining a social movement outcome.
In the spring of 2021, I made a poster presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium at Fordham College-Rose Hill and showcased main findings from the project.
What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
While doing undergraduate research, I learned the crucial role that social media plays in today’s social movements. Interestingly, many advocates recognized the COVID-19 public health crisis as creating a “natural experiment” in policing and criminal justice policy as cities and states struggle to deal with the pandemic in jails and prisons. While they see this as a moment of opportunity in the long movement to end mass incarceration and secure equal justice, it is still a moment of obvious threat to incarcerated people, their families and their communities.
What advice do you have for political science majors interested in doing research?
Undergraduate research gives us, students, an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a topic that we might not get to in the classroom setting, so I encourage all political science majors to do research. My advice is to be flexible and open to changing the direction of your research. You might find that as you research your initial question, you raise a new question that is more interesting. Although it might seem like more work to shift your focus after starting data collection, it is likely worth it.