News Details

Advocating for Prisoners

Authored by: Lisa Dugan

Photography by: Candace diCarlo

Student Life


SP2 students pursue advanced degrees for a variety of reasons. For first year DSW candidate Kirk James, personal experience was the driving force. In 1994 in New York, a then 18-year old James was wrongly arrested and incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws—an experience that changed the course of his entire life.

“At the time, I was in college studying criminal justice with plans to become a lawyer,” he recalls. “I had a rosy picture of our criminal justice system, but this was a rude awakening. I experienced first hand the overwhelming obstacles formerly incarcerated individuals face in every aspect of their lives.”

Determination and education enabled James to overcome those barriers and earn a Bachelors and Masters Degree from Hunter College. It also motivated him to support and advocate for incarcerated individuals. Now he hopes to improve the way social work education addresses criminal justice involvement. “While it may not be their presenting issue, criminal justice involvement is prevalent among social work clients in all settings. However, the implications of this interface are not adequately addressed in social work curricula,”  he says.

“The DSW provides an opportunity to raise these issues with professionals in my cohort, while learning from their experiences” says Kirk. “I’m also gaining clinical tools that help me work more effectively with clients.”