Crime and Punishment Seen Through the Eyes of a First-Time CUNY Research Scholar

Published: November 04, 2020

Can Undergraduate Students Decipher Myth and Truth about Capital Punishment?

The resounding answer is YES, according to Madison Otway, a first-time, full-time Queensborough Community College student, and successful CUNY Research Scholars Program applicant.

“Madison and I had several Zoom meetings about her application,” said her mentor Celia Sporer, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice.

“She impressed me as an articulate student who understood the requirements of the project, Myth and Truth about Capital Punishment: Can Undergraduate Students Tell the Difference. In the brief time she has been enrolled in my CRIM 106- Criminal Justice Research Class, she has shown an exceptional commitment to her studies.”

The researchers’ primary goal is to see if the average person can distinguish between the myths and facts of capital punishment, and how such abilities (or inabilities) influences their level of support for capital punishment. Additionally, they will look to see how television, movies and other fictionalized accounts portray those who receive capital punishment.   

Otway is developing the project’s research question, hypotheses and is defining the variables. She will also locate and evaluate all relevant research and prepare a literature review to develop a survey measure and other aspects of the methods section proposed for the paper. The final research will be presented at the Virtual Undergraduate Research Day on December 4.

“Everyone has a responsibility to know about current events—not just in their back yards, but across the country and around the world,” said the 18 year-old CUNY Research Scholar.

“The knowledge I have gained over time about politics, history, and U.S. policy is what inspired me to pursue criminal justice in the first place.”

She continued, “I am lucky to have Professor Sporer as a mentor—she is an excellent person to work with. I have not been alone ever in this process.”

According to Sporer, as of 2019, 106 countries around the world had completely banned the use of capital punishment within their borders. The United States is one of the 56 countries across the world that has retained capital punishment in some form. 28 states, the Federal government, and the United States military, all allow for capital punishment and several allow for multiple methods of execution. Capital punishment is said to serve the criminal justice goal of deterrence and retribution, yet there is a great deal of controversy about its application and implementation.

“Capital punishment is a tinderbox issue,” said Otway. “I believe the subject warrants more research to be done on the complexity of what crimes warrant, or don’t warrant such punishment, and whether capital punishment has any place in our modern society.”

Last spring, like thousands of other schools across the country, Otway’s high school had a virtual graduation which she watched with her parents and eight year-old brother at their home in Floral Park, Queens.

Life was changing at a dizzying pace. As COVID made its deadly mark on communities everywhere, Otway’s family had their own brush with the virus. In March, her mother and father fell ill and went to the doctor, who diagnosed them both with sinus infections. They were treated and recovered. Otway’s mother, considered an essential worker, returned to her job. Otway’s father continued to work from home.

Over the summer, Otway’s parents received positive results on an antibody test.  

“We quarantined from each other for two weeks, which was especially hard for my brother, who didn’t really understand what was happening.”

After the quarantine period was over, everyone tested negative.

“I no longer take things for granted the way I used to. I know I am lucky to be at Queensborough, a place where professors care and research is so highly valued.”

Over the next five weeks, Otway must research ten more articles, create a summary from that research and then develop a presentation.

She acknowledged the challenges of remote learning yet believes joining the research community will enhance life experiences that support her academic and professional goals.

“Research is a key part of my program at Queensborough.”

Otway plans to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice where she aspires to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees before pursuing a career in the legal field.



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