It’s no small thing to throw the symbolic weight of Princeton University behind a cause. As such, it’s been deeply encouraging to see President Eisgruber’s recent advocacy on behalf of the trans community and his leadership in the university’s challenge against President Donald Trump’s DACA decision. President Eisgruber’s actions have shown that in some cases, he is willing to put resources and reputation on the line for justice, and that he is an effective advocate when he chooses to do so.

These developments make President Eisgruber’s recent statements on Students for Prison Education and Reform’s (SPEAR) Ban the Box campaign all the more disappointing. After a Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) presentation from several SPEAR members on Monday afternoon, President Eisgruber announced that he, as the final arbiter of whether the University bans the box, was largely opposed. 
The Ban the Box campaign at Princeton began in 2012, and asks the University to remove the question regarding an applicant’s criminal record from its application. Now that the Common App itself announced that it would be removing the box from its application altogether, it is an individual university’s decision whether to ask the question on its supplemental applications. 

Read the full op-ed to see SPEAR’S response:

ALSO — Check out the recent press coverage about the Ban the Box efforts on campus:

Eisgruber argues against Ban the Box objectives at CPUC meeting:

It’s time to Ban the Box:



Support the National Prison Strike!

Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) joins in solidarity with our incarcerated comrades striking across the country in the August 21 National Prison Strike. SPEAR seeks the dismantling of all structures that perpetuate racial and class oppression in the U.S. and globally, no more clearly apparent than in our system of prisons and policing. SPEAR wholeheartedly supports the demands of the National Prison Strike--which focus widely on prison conditions, voting rights, racial justice, and the ability of incarcerated people to organize and advocate for themselves--in recognition that the massive human suffering in cages must be alleviated even as we work together for the eventual dismantling of the carceral state.

Please read the demands and add your organization's name here. You can find a recent podcast about the upcoming strike here.  



Joint Press Release: More Than 1,000 in NJ are in Solitary Confinement, New Data Shows on Heels of Christie’s Veto of Reform


Joint Press Release: More Than 1,000 in NJ are in Solitary Confinement, New Data Shows on Heels of Christie’s Veto of Reform

More than 1,300 prisoners were in solitary confinement on any given day in New Jersey’s prisons and jails as recently as last December, according to new data released by human rights advocates. The release of these data, gathered by Students for Prison Education and Reform: Princeton (SPEAR), Solitary Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, previews a solitary confinement report to be issued in 2017.

The release of this information, first published by The Marshall Project, comes on the heels of Governor Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that would have dramatically reformed solitary confinement in the state.

“If signed into law, the bill would have made New Jersey a leader in solitary confinement reform,” said Jean Casella, Co-Director of the national watchdog group Solitary Watch. “Instead, it now lags behind at least a dozen states that have made significant reductions in their solitary populations, including California, Colorado, and New York.”

These data directly contradict Christie’s assertion that segregation units were used “primarily” for medical or safety-related reasons, an erroneous argument his veto statement made to refute the demonstrable fact that isolation is used as a disciplinary measure.




Mid-Summer Update: Coverage of The Admissions Opportunity Campaign

Hopefully everyone is having a great summer so far! The Admissions Opportunity Campaign Teach-In was recently covered in both Princeton Alumni Weekly and The Huffington Post. We find it extremely exciting and hopeful that even a few months after the event, individuals are continuing the conversation on removing these critical barriers to education. We hope to continue with the campaign and conversation during the upcoming school year. Stay tuned for more!



Upcoming Events Week of April 27th

Students for Prison Education and Reform invites students to two amazing events happening this week. 

1. AOC Organizing Meeting Tomorrow (April 27th) at 8:00PM in the Frist MPR. 

Please join Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) in discussing the Admissions Opportunity Campaign— a campaign to increase access to education by eliminating questions regarding criminal histories in Princeton’s application process. This event will be a great opportunity to not only learn more about the issues surrounding the campaign, but also help to strategize the most effective way to go about organizing the teach-in that will be held on May 7th. 

2. Jobs in Justice Tuesday April 28th at 7:00PM

Please join Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) for a panel discussion with five Woodrow Wilson M.P.A. students who have held jobs in the criminal justice system. The panelists have experience in managing grants, investigating for public defenders, fundraising, and drug policy reform. They will offer advice to students who are interested in pursuing similar paths, and discuss the opportunities and challenges involved. The event is co-sponsored by Career Services.



SPEAR Conference April 10th-12th

This upcoming weekend, April 10th-12th, SPEAR will hosts its second annual conference. 

The first two days of the conference, April 10th and 11th, will offer opportunities for attendants to learn and engage in dialogues focused on criminal justice reform and prison education in the United States. 

On the third day, April 12th, SPEAR will host a private student-only summit  aimed at planning the national launch of the campaign to remove all questions related to past involvement with the justice system from university admissions applications. 

Some highlights of the conference will include a screening of Dead Man Walking, the 1995 film staring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, followed by a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book that served as the basis for the film; and a talk by Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and activist in the Muslim community, who will speak about issues within the criminal justice system. Ms. Chaudry recently gained widespread attention for her role in the creation of the 2014 podcast series Serialwhich examines circumstances surrounding a life sentence handed down to 17-year-old Adnan Syed despite a lack of viable evidence. 

The conference will also feature a variety of additional panels and workshops. The panels will allow experts to share their experiences with and/or research on the status quo of the criminal justice system as well as possible routes towards reform. The workshops will allow participants and assembled experts to meaningfully engage in discussions about the system and share tactics for fostering change a local, state and national level.

If you would like to register for the conference, please visit:  Note that registration does not bind you to attend all sessions, but is simply to get a sense of  how many Princeton students we should expect at the conference for room scheduling purposes. Also, there will be a catered banquet for student participants on Saturday, April 11 at 7:00pm. Please RSVP to reserve your spot if you are free.

If you have any questions regarding the event or SPEAR, do not hesitate to contact us at

 Tentative Schedule


3:00-5:00: Screening of “Dead Man Walking"

5:30-7:00: Talk and Audience Discussion with Sister Helen Prejean



 9:00-10:30: Panel: Reversing the School to Prison Pipeline

10:30-12:00: Workshops on:

Post-Release College Programs

High School Equivalency Programs Inside Prisons

Inside-Outside Classes

12:00-1:30: Panel: Fostering Reform Through Journalism

1:30-3:00: Workshops on: 

Stigma of Mental Health in the Black Community

Solitary Confinement as Mass Torture

Racial Protest in the Digital Age

The Language of Prison Reform

3:00-4:30: Panel: Mental Health and Mass Incarceration

  • Dr. Elizabeth Ford, Executive Director of Mental Health—NYC Correctional Health Services
  • Johnny Perez, Safe Reentry Advocate at the Urban Justice System

4:30-6:00: Talk and Audience Discussion with Rabia Chaudry, J.D.



All day: Private sessions to organize the national Abolish the Box campaign. All students and recent graduates are welcome to attend. For more information about the Sunday session, please contact Joel Simwinga at



The wHole Premier Screening and Talk-Back

the wHole

On Monday, March 23rd, SPEAR will shake up its weekly meeting by hosting the premier screening of The wHole, a short anti-solitary confinement web series. The screening will be followed by a talk-back with show creator Ramon Hamilton. It'll be a great chance to learn about solitary confinement and the use of media in anti-prison advocacy. 

If you want to learn more about The wHole, you can check out Vice News' Feature of Ramon and the wHole here:

In addition, you can view the wHole website here:!press/c1fl4


JPay Research Brief

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JPay Research Brief

JPay sells itself as a private company “helping friends and family of inmates stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones through a variety of corrections-related services” Its principal service is the processing of electronic money transfers; however, through its JP4(R) Player, it offers emails, music downloads, games, and video visitation for substantial fees.

JPay claims its electronic money transfers are quicker, more efficient and more security than the system of the past, which often involved loved ones sending money orders through the mail. Yet the fee associated with this was traditionally around $3.00. Under JPay, it is north of $7.00. Furthermore, the fees administered by JPay can reach as high as 35% to 45%.

Why are JPay’s fees so high? Not because it holds a relatively small share and cannot compete with the economics of scale of larger businesses in the industry, but because it maintains a quasi-monopoly over the industry. JPay provides money transfers to more than 70% of the incarcerated persons in U.S. prisons - approximately 1.7 million individuals. More pressingly, nearly 400,000 people are imprisoned in states where there is no “free deposit option”.

There are, however, cheaper competitors within this industry, many of them charging fees closer to $3.00 or 4 or 5 percent. So why does JPay maintain its monopoly despite their presence? In short, states often receive between $0.50 and $2.50 for each payment the company accepts on behalf of their incarcerated persons. This “profit sharing” system is critical to the success of JPay.

Aside from profit sharing, JPay also linearizes the payment transfer system, allowing various Departments of Corrections to deduct fees and charges before the money hits an incarcerated person’s account. Such charges include: court fees, booking fees, intake fees, and in some cases a fifteen percent for mandatory savings account.

Finally, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of those imprisoned, money is needed to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor, winter clothes, toilet paper, electricity, and even room and board. Thus, JPay offers an efficient electronic system that funnels money into the system.

There are, of course, other, less supported, explanations behind JPay’s success, including that it has deliberately hampered the money order system in the situations in which it handles them, or that it has practiced questionable lobbying practices. These explanations, even if true, are secondary to the ones discussed above.

Ultimately JPay adds an undue economic burden upon those who are most vulnerable in our society, thereby helping to perpetuate the poverty-prison cycle. Furthermore it has exploited a situation in which people are increasingly financially responsible for their own incarceration or that of their loved one. Despite the marginal benefits of its electronic system, JPay overall constitutes yet another harm to our already dysfunctional corrections system.  

Sourcing and further reading: 

Prison Legal News article and follow up 

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Central Park Five Event Recap


Central Park Five Event Recap

On Thursday, February 26th, SPEAR hosted its Central Park Five event. The night kicked off at 5:00PM with a screening of the 2-hr Central Park Five documentary, followed by a panel with Raymond Santana, one of the members of The Central Park Five; Five Mualimm-ak, Founder of The Incarcerated Nation Corporation; and Craig Levine, The Senior Counsel and Policy Direction for The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. The screening and panel discussion were followed by dinner and conversation between the guest speakers and the event attendees. Thank you to all the speakers and guests who attended the event!


The Central Park Five & the Problem of False Confession

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The Central Park Five & the Problem of False Confession

Prepared by the Research Committee

On Thursday, February 19th, 2015, SPEAR will host Raymond Santana, a member of the Central Park Five, a group of men who were wrongly convicted of rape in the year 1989, only to have their convictions vacated in 2002. After a woman was raped and beaten in Central Park on the night of April 19th 1989, New York City Police apprehended Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, all aged 14 to 16, and interrogated them for 72 hours. Faced with enormous pressure from Police, false promises of safe return to their homes, combined with the exhaustion and confusion of being a teenager in police custody, the 5 boys confessed to raping the victim, despite all five being completely innocent. Their false confessions were used during trial, and the boys were given sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years.

Intuitively, confessions seem to be a rigorous form of evidence, but stories like that of the Central Park Five show how easy it is for someone, when placed in the right environment and under the right pressures, to do something dramatically against their interests. In fact, false confessions are a leading cause of wrong convictions, accounting for 30% of wrongful convictions each year.[1] Let’s examine the mechanics of how false confessions lead to the incarceration of men and women every year.

Academic study on the nature of false confessions has revealed three “pathways” that lead someone to admit when they are innocent.

The first “pathway” towards false confession is called misclassification error, which is when suspect is immediately perceived as guilty by the interrogating officer. As a result, police continue to interrogate a suspect even after he or she has denied guilt. This causes persistence on the part of the interrogator, heightening the pressure that may cause someone to decide that confessing is in their best interests.

Misclassification” can take many forms. Police may be racially biased and continue to interrogate black and brown men because they fit the officer’s perception of who perpetrated the crime. In the case of the Central Park Five, the profiles of the five boys played into public fears about roaming bands of dangerous, “wilding youths.”

Officers may also presume guilt of a suspect by believing themselves to be “human lie detectors.”[2] As Richad Leo and Steven Drizin state in their 2012 paper, The Three Errors, Pathways to False Confessions, “there is no human behavior or psychological response that is unique to deception and therefore no tell-tale behavioral signs of deception or truth telling.”[3] Police officers can accurately predict a lie only 45% to 60% of the time, however police interrogators continue to believe that they know when someone is lying, causing them to unnecessarily zero-in on certain suspects.[4] Disproving the myth of the canny, intuitive, and unbiased police interrogator is a necessary step in lowering the number of false confessions.

The second route towards a false confessions is what Richard Leo and Steven Drizin term “coercion errors.” These errors are the easiest to understand because they align most closely with our popular conception of a police interrogation. Suspects may confess to avoid physical harm or discomfort. However, a police interrogation can lead to a false confession even without denial of basic human rights. Experts believe that any interrogation beyond 6 hours long is coercive. After that point, a suspect might be willing to do anything to stop the police from questioning them.[5] All five members of the Central Park Five tell how they were willing to falsely confess to the crime just so they could go home, a scenario repeated over and over again in the study of the false confessions of Juveniles.

Furthermore, during questioning, police can make it appear to the suspect that the state has an overwhelming case against them by inventing false evidence. If a suspect believes that they will be proven guilty in court no matter what they say, it makes sense to falsely confess in order to reduce his or her future sentence. In the case Central Park Five, police told Yusef Salaam that they had found his fingerprints on the jogger’s shorts when they did not. As a result Yusef thought that his best case of action was to falsely confess.

Juveniles are especially vulnerable to coercive police methods and false confessions. Juveniles make up a highly disproportionate share, 63%, of all exonerations based on false confessions. Youth need special protections against abuses in police interrogations, and they should not be able to waive their right to counsel before entering the interrogation room.  

Finally, false conviction can be the result of “contamination error,” which is where a confession becomes more believable because it includes information that only the perpetrator would be able to know. The central park five all describe how even though they did not know the details of the crime, officer “fed them” information, including the way the jogger was dressed and the names of the other boys involved in the case, letting their false confessions become more believable. As a result, jurors believed their confessions to be more genuine than they were.

Contamination errors can be accidental or intentional on the part of the police. Police need better training to avoid releasing non-public information. Interrogations should be recorded in order to trace the source of all information and to place increased scrutiny on officers in the interrogation room.


For more information on false confessions, see The Innocence Project at  


[1] Leo, Richard A. and Drizin, Steven A., The Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World. North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 82, 2004. Available at SSRN:

[2] Leo, Richard A. and Drizin, Steven A., The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confession and Wrongful Conviction (2010). G. Daniel Lassiter & Christian Meissner, eds., Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations (American Psychological Association, 2010); Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2012-04. Available at SSRN:

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Leo and Drizin, 2004

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Central Park Five Screening and Panel Discussion

Please join SPEAR for the screening of the documentary The Central Park Five. A panel discussion will follow the screening that will be moderated by Five Mualimm-ak, the founder of the Incarcerated National Campaign and will feature Raymond Santana, one of the members of the Central Park Five, and Craig Levine, the Senior Counsel and Policy Director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. The event will take place Thursday, February 26th at 5:00PM inside Betts Auditorium.

"In 1989, five Black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. The five young teenagers were forced to spend years in prison for a crime they didn't commit before the truth about what really happened became clear. With THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, this story of injustice finally gets the attention it deserves".