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From Prison to Ph.D.: The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones (themarshallproject.org)
115 points by Geekette 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments

I don't understand why we let people out of prison if we aren't prepared to actually let them out of prison. I'm not really bleeding heart about this, I'd be fine with any murder of this sort meaning life in prison. What does not make sense is letting someone out and then not treating them as normal humans again. It only encourages people to revert to evil.

Some quotes from the article makes it seem like they are more worried about the potential social and political backlash, than their personal beliefs on whether she has been rehabilitated.

> "We didn’t have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle,” said John Stauffer, one of the two American studies professors. “But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.

This is so cowardly.

... wow. I'm pretty shocked that a Harvard prof would admit to overturning someone's admission due in part to them being a racial minority, fearing the prospect of bad press from Fox News. Fox has really won the culture wars in a major way.

> shocked that a Harvard prof would admit to overturning someone's admission due in part to them being a racial minority

Harvard has come under a lot of criticism for having a lower standard for blacks and a higher standard for asians. He seems to imply that he felt or that others would feel (I can't exactly tell) that Harvard would not have accepted someone in the same situation who wasn't black. This is different than saying he didn't think she should be accepted because of her skin color.

I'm not arguing for or against their decision--just that within the context of current lawsuits against Harvard, his statement has a bit different meaning.

Why would Harvard actually care what Fox news thinks? Honest question.

They don't want to be a negative target of DC. DC is currently Republican led and Republican politicians most definitely care what Fox news thinks.

My guess is that the profs saw this as such a perfect shitstorm that, if it becomes a major story, DC would feel they have no choice but to do something about it.

I was going to say something more 2015-ish, but with Donny's revealing of the wizard behind the curtain, yeah, you are right.

Why do they care?

I mean, they have enough cash in the bank to never let another student in for 200 years, and still be just fine. They have more good-will built up than anything else out there. They make advances in human knowledge comparable to almost nothing else besides another University. They have it all. So what could they want then?

The only thing I can come up with is that they do think Fox would be correct in that assumption. They aren't worried about the money. Maybe they are worried about the woman herself and just are using the Fox stuff as cover? Nothing else really makes sense.

The idea that sufficient resources mean you can just ignore politics has historically proven inaccurate.

What do you think most of their donors watch, practically exclusively? Gotta make sure Johnny's not going to one of those SJW / safe space / PC / ... colleges like Yale!

They're trying to avoid being part of Fox's whole anti-University arc this season.

i'm pretty sure they turned her away for being a child murderer

Worse, he's apparently a scholar on antislavery and professor of African American Studies, i.e. a demographic supposedly more cognizant of barriers minorities face and importance of their getting opportunities like admission to Harvard.

I imagine there are plenty of very highly qualified scholars who, to use the professor's own words, "happen to be a minority," that never killed their infant child.

Plenty of very highly qualified scholars who didn't grow up in the context that she did, whose backgrounds aren't comparable. Doesn't make her less deserving of this opportunity; she committed a crime and did her time, she's allowed to move on.

She absolutely is and should not have any impediments from the state in moving on with her life. Private individuals and institutions are under no such obligation, though.

So, you're stating that I'm not allowed to have an opinion that disapproves of the actions of Harvard in this instance?

No one is stating that Harvard had an obligation to accept her. People are expressing their dissatisfaction with Harvard's actions. That's still allowed, right?

[As a side note: If all private individuals/institutions impose additional hardships on ex-cons, then it's highly hypocritical for any of those individuals/institutions to complain about the recidivism rates. You may as well just send them all away for life in prison for any crime and be done with it if your plan is to hamper their efforts to move on after prison.]

Nothing I said could be reasonably interpreted to mean that you're not allowed to disagree with Harvard's decision. Stop trying to be argumentative.

Nobody's disputing the rights of private institutions but everybody has a right to express their distaste over their actions, especially when it is arrived at in a manner which runs against what such institutions claim to stand for.

Claiming that private institutions aren't under any obligations for reasonable conduct seems to be a very uniquely American ideation; that somehow only the government is bound by higher ideals, and businesses can do what they please with whoever they please as long as someone signs a contract

Harvard is a private institution that receives funding from the Government in the form of Pell Grants. This is not just a small business in Wisconsin. If Harvard wants to be able to extend the punishment of someone who has served their time, they should no longer receive Government funding.

You don't get to have it both ways.

She committed a crime, did her time, and is allowed to not be incarcerated by the state anymore. That doesn't mean she's entitled to any number of additional things such as admission to Harvard doctoral programs, employment at any given employer, etc.

I think they were trying to say that if this person was not a minority there would have been no way they would even be considered.

Not to get into an argument about affirmative action, but if the problem is that minorities are often perceived as having a lower bar for entry, one of the few ways to ameliorate that perception is to actually hire minority candidates who do meet the "normal" bar for entry. Yes, skeptics will still be skeptics, but if an institution as renowned as Harvard is too scared by Fox News to take that action, than who isn't? (besides NYU and the other schools that accepted the Ph.D. candidate)

Along these lines, I think it was an attempt to not piss off potential donors.

"I donate a quarter million a year and you give it to a black who killed her own son? Guess Yale could use a new building with my name on it"

Still though, the US needs to have a good hard look at de-monetizing the prison industrial complex, humanizing post-incarcerated people, and disassembling the economic incentives to use the 13th amendment for disenfranchisement.

But there are potential donors who deeply care about reforming criminal justice. The Koch brothers and the Deasons, for instance: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/30/opinion/ruining-lives-wit...

I realize the op-ed linked to above mentions legislation to end harsh punishment/disclosure rules for first-time non-violent offenders, but that's a reasonable initial milestone in reforming the justice system to be more rehabilitative.

You can read more about their stances as advocated by Freedom Partners, the nonprofit that they founded and fund: https://freedompartners.org/issues/

Including this statement of support for VA governor candidate Ed Gillespie's criminal justice reform plan: https://freedompartners.org/press/holden-keeping-virginia-sa...


> “Virginia’s criminal justice system should be just, fair and redeeming. Law enforcement and justice should be administered fairly, and when Virginians exit the criminal justice system they should leave more prepared to live a full and contributing life in society. “ – Ed Gillespie

Going against the herd here and going to say that people are losing their minds. If I intentionally, over days and weeks, repeatedly beat, tortured and murdered a defenseless child? I would do the honor of killing myself so someone else wouldn't be burdened with it. It is simply horrendous and unacceptable.

The amount of degeneracy we're being taught to accept, and even appreciate, is starting to be awful. Her research was even along those same lines: a meta project on the value created by incarcerated researchers.

I'm not saying she shouldn't still have her civil and constitutional rights. She certainly shouldn't ever be subject to abuse or cruel and unusual punishment. But should she be represented at our most esteemed institutions? Come on.

What about Ross Ulbricht? Snowden? Aaron Swartz? There are countless people who have done nothing but go to great lengths to give people liberties, and yet effectively serve life sentences for doing nothing wrong? Why focus so much energy on promoting legitimate child murderers? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

If anything, the energy spent here could be better spent elsewhere.

At the same time, I see why it was done. Should someone who happened to go to prison have limited prospects for the rest of their life? Should someone who happened to get arrested for drugs need to work hard labor for the rest of their life to survive?

There is nothing wrong with choosing to put chemicals in your body as long as you aren't hurting anybody else in the process.

There is something horribly wrong with torture and murder of a 4 year old.

How many good and decent people work hard labor most of their lives simply because they were born on the wrong side of some arbitrarily drawn border? Because they happen to be born into a world where their intellectual capabilities are relatively low?

I have no sympathy for this child murderer for not getting into Harvard.

At what point will she simply be referred to as Michelle Jones as opposed to "this child murderer"? It's just not right to blatantly disregard all her twenty years of transformation


You do realize others may think that several decades is long enough for a full and thorough reformation to potentially occur? Especially in case like this, when the crime was committed at a young age in a fairly severe context.

Obviously, we must perform a careful evaluation to ensure that this is the case. But to deny any possibility of reformation seems wrong, and not reflective of the reality in which people sometimes change significantly over time.

If I understand correctly, the problem was that she herself minimized her actions when she applied for the programs. I believe the problem was not rehabilitation, the problem was they seem to have felt she was deceptive from the beginning.

If that were true then it would have come as a surprise to the history department that did want to hire her. She earned her undergraduate degree and published from within prison, so it wasn't a secret. The history department had to assist her with the submission of her application because she was unable to use the online application system from within prison.

The professors' whose memo questioned whether she had minimized her crime “to the point of misrepresentation” are complaining that her application focused on her academic achievements and not enough on her crime. In doing so, they are setting themselves up as better assessors of her rehabilitation than the parole board which specializes in that task and has her whole legal and custodial history.

Professor Stauffer's subsequent comments about how it would play on fox News suggest that he's more concerned with appearances than academic rigor. His fear of criticism undermines his academic mission.

It's just not right to blatantly disregard her child murder. "Hello students, I am your professor, and this is your graduate instructor Michelle. She'll be helping you prepare for your midterm exams, and also she murdered a 4-year-old."

"There is nothing wrong with choosing to put chemicals in your body as long as you aren't hurting anybody else in the process.

"There is something horribly wrong with torture and murder of a 4 year old."

I know plenty of people who disagree and feel there is no great difference between the two. Why are you right and they wrong?

I think those people must be choosing to put chemicals into their bodies.

Someone arrested for drug possession shouldn't have limited prospects for the rest of their lives, and child murderers shouldn't be invited to the country's most respected intellectual institutions. I don't find that self-contradictory.

I think it's a stretch to call denial of entry to one of the most exclusive institutions of the world as "not treating them as normal humans".

Reading between the lines from the text here (which I admit is speculation), I think there's substantial chance the admissions office feels there may be a shoe yet to drop (note that her son's body was never found... which based on the text of the article is likely to mean she never told the authorities where it was, which raises questions about what else might have happened).

They specifically cite the possibility that her description of her crime amounted to deception. Between that and the possibility of more secret land mines that might reveal she has done something even worse (i.e. actively killed the child), I think it's totally reasonable for the administration to say "No thanks, we're full to the gills with no-risk applicants."

No one is entitled to be selected for graduate study at Harvard. And she seems to be doing fine with other offers. So I think as a society we've done reasonably well in giving her a chance at a new life.

Yeah, this seems to be as much about the Marshall Project drumming up awareness as anything. Submarine story of a social-justice kind. Whatever.

there's substantial chance the admissions office feels there may be a shoe yet to drop

I'm not inclined to give that possibility much weight compared to the input of the prosecutor and the parole board that know her case in depth. It's easy to make up reasons.

To my mind, it's not completely unreasonable to argue that the constraints on the state do not necessarily have to be mirrored as constraints on individuals or companies/institutions.

It seems to be similar to the freedom of speech debate regarding the Daily Stormer. The debate largely revolved around whether a company should be able to refuse their business because they found it objectionable even while conceding it was legal.

This is similar I think. From the state's perspective this person has served her time and is free to go about her business. But an institution still finds her objectionable and has refused her admission.

Personally, I'm somewhat conflicted. I would imagine I would find it very difficult to have a professional relationship with this person and, if I was responsible for hiring, would definitely be concerned that hiring her may not be net positive for my organisation. Equally, I'm very aware that this line of reasoning has been used to prolong some very nasty behaviours and I may well be perpetuating one of them.

She would be a net positive for your organization, however, that's a low hurdle.

When there is a good amount of competition for hiring or admittance, it would be hard to justify hiring/admitting her when you can find someone with similar skills without the time in prison.

I find such justification easy.

Is the net social gain of hiring someone working towards or through rehabilitation greater than that of hiring someone who's not faced with that burden? In other words, am I helping reduce recidivism? I think so.

Maybe. If a kid fucked up and has shown maturity then I would completely agree. It's both beneficial to them and to society.

For the person in the article, it's not that clear. There's no reason to believe she'll repeat the heinous crime but the effect of her presence in the organisation could be very disruptive. I wouldn't say it is easy.

Can you really say to your team that you've hired the best available when you hire PhD with prison when you had PhDs available without.

If you think hiring someone with rehabilitation is a greater social good, then you are effectively punishing people who don't have a criminal record.

The incarceration is the punishment handed out by the state, the state being a proxy of 'society'. There is however no moral obligation for any citizen to take over the stance of that 'abstract society' that a prisoner can be released for whatever reason. In other words, everybody has to right to associate or not with who they want. The extreme example here is that the victim of child molestation at the hand of a parent has no obligation whatsoever to resume contact with the perpetrator after release from prison.

On a meta note, I would be a lot more sympathetic to many 'causes' if only they would choose less reprehensible poster children for their campaigns. I mean, I'm all for prison reform and rehabilitation, but come on:

"In a memo to university administrators, these professors said the admissions dean had told them Jones’s selection would be reviewed by the president and provost, and questioned whether she had minimized her crime “to the point of misrepresentation.”"

"The boy died in 1992 in circumstances that remain unclear; the body was never found."

"At her trial, a former friend testified that Jones confessed to having beaten the boy and then leaving him alone for days in their apartment, eventually returning to find him dead in his bedroom.".

Campaigning on the basis of a child murderer who abused a 4 year old and let him starve to death not being admitted to a top university being 'unfair'? Yeah, good luck with that.

> The incarceration is the punishment handed out by the state, the state being a proxy of 'society'. There is however no moral obligation for any citizen to take over the stance of that 'abstract society' that a prisoner can be released for whatever reason.

While true this is a reflection on society itself. Some people learn this the hard way, when they end on the wrong side of it and then ask "why do people not forgive?"

> On a meta note, I would be a lot more sympathetic to many 'causes' if only they would choose less reprehensible poster children for their campaigns.

> Campaigning on the basis of a child murderer who abused a 4 year old and let him starve to death not being admitted to a top university being 'unfair'? Yeah, good luck with that.

You either stand for your principles in all circumstances or none. If they only count for 'easy' cases they are worthless anyway.

"You either stand for your principles in all circumstances or none. If they only count for 'easy' cases they are worthless anyway."

So a third-striker convicted to 15 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread is equally 'deserving' of help than a child murderer? Okay... Look I would agree if you would say 'we'll focus on a group and if there happen to be undeserving people in that group, we'll grudgingly accept that as 'collateral damage'' - but saying that there can be no advocacy until you can, up front, define exactly what you will stand for and what not, and if you miss an edge case you somehow have a moral obligation to take those 'under your wing' so to say, is just naively rigid absolutism.

> naively rigid absolutism

90% of anything approaching a political discussion on HN.

> child murderer

Is she a murderer, or someone who committed murder once over 20 years ago?

A child murderer, obviously. Actions have consequences, some of them life long.

To quote you, this sounds like "naively rigid absolutism".

> You either stand for your principles in all circumstances or none.

Your principles can simultaneously include "the prison system is badly broken and desperately in need to huge reforms" and "parents who brutally murder their children should never see another sunrise as a free person" without any cognitive dissonance.

That they can - it's just a very different principle from the one which is about helping everyone after their prison time.

What does not make sense is letting someone out and then not treating them as normal humans again.

Because the current criminal "justice" system has very little to do with actually preventing and helping society recover from the effects of criminal behavior. It's about generating false appearances of "retribution" (or making people "pay" for their crimes, whatever that means), and the (deeply) false appearance of some kind of "moral balance" in the world, generally. And reinforcing systems of (low-key) terror and control on the general population.

It only encourages people to revert to evil.

You got it. That may not be the stated goal of the current system. But it's certainly one of its inevitable outcomes.

The tragedy is that it's not just the offenders - or even those wrongly accused - who suffer from (and become morally corrupted by) the current order. It's all of us.

Harvard is for rich kids, and some extremely capable, to keep up appearances of 'we're not just a rich kids club, we're a real university', plus to make sure there's at least a few intelligent people running things in the long run.

The extremely capable do all the work, while the rich get to intermingle.

The extremely capable of course are carefully vetted to be fully indoctrinated in the system - you have to want to be part of the rich club - a true capitalist.

Not only is this lady out of prison not interested in being part of the rich club, nobody in the rich club wants her to be in!

Hence, she's not welcome at Harvard.

Of course Harvard can't come out and say that, but they're well versed in doublespeak [0], and this'll soon be forgotten.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublespeak

I wonder. Harvard certainly admits some on the basis of criteria other than academic merit. It favours legacy students. It gives an advantage to historically mistreated minorities. And it wouldn't be surprising if it tried to curry favour with the powerful by admitting their less-than-brilliant offspring, too.

But even with all that, my impression is that the bar is still pretty darn high. Even the stupid Harvard grads are pretty capable.

Is that true? Any Harvard alums or faculty want to speak for or against this notion?

You're being incredibly naive if you think folks from Harvard bother with reading HackerNews.

This place is for suckers, real capitalists read Forbes :)

And that was like 2 decades ago when she was mentally immature. Not that what she did was justifiable under any circumstance, but for heaven's sake her term was reduced by 30 yrs. Harvard has really goofed it up if this story blows up.

From the article she was essentially sentenced to life in prison as she was given a 50 year sentence. The justice system actually brought this about by releasing her after 20 years or 40% of her sentence. There may be a discrepancy between what society sees as a just punishment and what the justice system feels it can impose.

There is no "we" as you mention.

Everyone is an individual with different values and judgments.

How could you expect the entirety of the human race to treat someones actions in a consistent way? It simply is going against reality.

This is not true. We live in a society with rules and laws on how to treat people. If the law says someone goes to prison for murder then "we" as a society have agreed to this. If everyone lived by different laws, we'd be in chaos.

What exactly isn't true about my statement.

You are saying people are not individuals with their own preferences?

Sure you can draw mental or geographical lines around people. And then try to apply laws to them.

But at the end of the day there are still people in those lines choosing to follow, or not follow the laws in various ways. And people treating people differently even while following those laws.

Only when these rules come into conflict. People can have different preferences, include preferences about with whom to associate or not. Allowing for that is a necessity for living in a free society.

>letting someone out and then not treating them as normal humans again. It only encourages people to revert to evil.

What do you think of people expelled from institutions for non-criminal reasons? Trump-supporting Andrew Torba for instance, who has been kicked out of Y-Combinator, and from the Google Play and Apple stores, for his politics. Should he get a life sentence?

I'm not sure I understand why it doesn't make sense.

Punishment/prison can serve a few purposes:

1. To serve as a deterrent to others.

2. To remove an individual from society, so they can't cause harm.

3. To reform an individual.

Given this:

The system might think that 20 years in prison is a sufficient deterrent.

That by removing the individual from society during this time period, they have sufficiently safeguarded society.

That it is enough time to reform an individual to the degree that they don't pose significant risk.

Given the above, I don't see why /every/ crime might result in individuals released into society being given the full rights of normal citizens. For example, you might want to continuously monitor their progress, or not allow them to enter certain occupations (such as child care) in order to continue to safeguard society...

Certain crimes, will no doubt limit your future activities permanently. But that alone doesn't seem like a reason to keep people in prison for ever. The hope is that they might be able to find some niche in which they can make a viable life for themselves in society perhaps.


Please don't repeat this all over the thread. High-energy, low-information repetition does not help take discussions where we want them to go.


Agreed. Also, murdering a 4 year old child should lead to lifelong sentence in any case imho, so sorry, no sympathies here.

She got pregnant at 14 after being raped by a high-school senior, suffered domestic violence from her mother and afterwards in multiple group homes and foster families she was placed in, culminating in a psychological breakdown. Given her state of mind then, this isn't directly comparable to other cases of cold, premeditated murder.

I don't think you can claim that. Prior abuse does not preclude cold or premeditated murder. In fact we don't have much details at all except that she beat her son, left him alone for several days and then buried the body later. That's reprehensible enough for me to say that I wouldn't want to work with her.

The post states she had a suffered psychological breakdown at that time, which clearly indicates she wasn't in the right frame of mind. It also outlined how the patterns of abuse she grew up with contributed to how she treated the child generally; its what she'd learned and knew no better.

Stop making excuses for her. Many of us grew up in abusive households and/or have suffered emotional and mental breakdowns.

She murdered her 4 year old child. And not manslaughter or crime of passion or whatever murder - but cold blooded beat him to death then hide the body murder.

Recognizing the significantly different context in that she was a 14 year old child who was raped, who had experienced other abuse before and while pregnant (she probably had no real choice or access to alternatives), which led to a breakdown, etc is not "making excuses for her".

I think we're trying to extrapolate too much from too little information. However, I do believe in some minimum level of culpability for your actions. Serial killers aren't excused for their often terrible childhoods. I think child killers belong in the same box. The idea that anyone in modern society "didn't know better" than to beat their small child then leave them for days strikes me as farcical.

She was a 14 year old child who was raped, who had experienced other abuse before and while pregnant. Given her circumstances, she probably had no access to alternatives or any real choice in whether/not to bear a child that resulted from rape. Given her upbringing and the manner of conception, it's not surprising she transferred patterns of abuse onto the child. Not excusing the crime or culpability (she was punished significantly for it), but recognizing that the context is significantly different.

I know you say you're not excusing her but forgive me because it seems like you sort of are, especially with this: "its what she'd learned and knew no better." I understand giving victims of abuse a bit of lee-way and understanding, I think that Michelle's crime though absolutely blows past that understanding though. If Michelle Jones was thrown in jail for using drugs or prostitution or any number of things I would be able to side with her on this. Child abuse, child neglect, child murder though? I can't do that.

Downvote me to hell again, but if person is capable of beating 4 year old defenseless child severely and leave him to die slowly in agony and hunger over days, it's not a human -- it's a dangerous animal that must be kept locked. And no amount of jail-time or sub-par academic papers can change that.


Because many people think that crimes require punishment and suffering. Eye for an eye type bullshit. They depend on their emotions rather than their reason to analyze situations.

Because keeping someone in prison for life after a fairly minor felony, committed when someone is 18 or 19 (and possibly still in high school) seems cruel and unusual punishment. The current system lets the government not take the blame for the lifetime of punishment the person might face. Of course, in my eyes the government still takes the blame for such things.

How is murdering a 4 year old child a "fairly minor" felony??

That in itself isn't. But we do jail folks for years over drug charges, don't we? And let that follow them around for the rest of their lives? It can disqualify you from a lot of stuff.

It doesn't matter what the crime is when folks are wondering why we let folks out of jail at all. It isn't so much the crime that was committed at that point.

I think it absolutely matters what the charge is. In this case, we are talking about someone who murdered a 4 year old. I don't have too much sympathy for someone who does this.

If you want to talk about people who are in jail for drug charges, that is a different discussion entirely.

Can't believe we're to the point of debating whether a private educational institution can base an admissions decision, in part, on a past murder conviction.

This isn't about redemption or rehabilitation. No one is suggesting she's going to beat, starve, abandon and murder another 4-year-old. That's very unlikely.

But, what we are suggesting is that a private institution should be able to consider a person's entire story in their admissions decision.

Crimes have consequences beyond the government imposed sentence. But maybe the issue here is that the woman's punishment was much less than what most people would consider full justice, so they feel compelled to mete out slightly more to compensate.

And you say, but look at all she's contributed to society with her research! And I say we'll never know what her son may have contributed and she took him from the world.

>>But maybe the issue here is that the woman's punishment was much less than what most people would consider full justice, so they feel compelled to mete out slightly more to compensate.

Peoples justice is not justice, it's revenge. You can't cherry pick the decisions of the justice system to fit your personal world views. You either believe in the ability of the justice system to impose the correct sentences, or you don't.

This private institution can base their decisions on anything they want, but in this particular case the reasoning is asinine and cowardly. It has nothing to do with her as a person and everything to do with a bad PR incident.

Criminal justice attempts to align punishments with the public's sense of fairness, not the other way around.

When people regularly feel compelled to mete out vigilante justice, it's a sign that the justice system is broken not people's sense of fairness.

The alternative is to make the criminal justice system into some kind of religion lecturing to the public about what value system they should have.

And, here, if you polled the general public you'd like get an overwhelming majority who believe that serving 20 years in prison for the beating, starvation, abandonment and murder of a child was too light a sentence. Habitually ignoring such sentiment is detrimental for a society long term as people lose faith in the government being able to protect them and maintain the right to be the sole arbiter of justice. (Avoiding mob justice is equally important, but this is not a case of ambiguous facts or uncertain guilt, just whether 20 years could ever be the right sentence for this abhorrent crime.)

Remember, governments get their power from and serve the people. Not the other way around.

I see your point, but nobody is saying the time she served wasn't adequate - yet still they want to force punishment.

Nobody would be complaining if she was trying to receive a HS diploma. But throw a prestigious school in the mix and all of a sudden its an issue.

> It has nothing to do with her as a person and everything to do with a bad PR incident.

Yes. The rejection is not about further punishing Ms. Jones. It is about protecting Harvard from bad press.

Is it unreasonable that Harvard admissions be based in part on protecting its image in the publuc eye?

Harvard's image isn't going to be compromised with an altruistic admission, they just don't want to stand up for rehabilitation.

Consider what that says about their integrity, their culture, and their goals as an institution.

Do you really think their image wouldn't be compromised by selecting a convicted child murderer for their PHD program? I can't imagine the US would majority poll in support of that, and I doubt it would differ across party lines all that much either.

To put in perspective, we're still at 60% support for the death penalty in this country.

But this is exactly about what punishment should be. She was judged and punished by the laws that we have created. Extrajudicial punishment is arbitrary and unstandardized. Furthermore, this social exclusion after prison drives increased rates of recidivism. Reformation would be a benefit for society and the individual. Also, her son could have been the next Hitler as much as the next Jesus. I have never been convinced by that type of argument.

Why fall back to this level of abstraction? We know the facts of this case. Do you think this particular decision was a good one or not?

And I say we'll never know what her son may have contributed and she took him from the world.

Odds are, as an African-American son of unmarried teenagers subject to a horrific excuse for public education, he would already have been a victim of the "justice system". Like all of our Wars, our Wars on Drugs and Crime are not designed to be "won" by any of their direct participants. Killing one's own child, whether before or after an arbitrary event, is an act of hopelessness. It's not hard to understand how someone without hope could do regrettable things. Nor is it hard to understand how the status quo's educational mascot, or at least the administrative cretins who have seized its control from the faculty, could react in a knee-jerk, shambolic, thoughtless manner to "support" that status quo.


Either you believe in forgiveness or you don't. What she did was horrific. What she had done to her was almost as bad, but not an excuse, never an excuse because we are not animals, for what she did. She ended a child's life in a horrible, cruel manner.


The state decided 20 years was enough. You can argue about the length or if she got out at all, but its problematic not to get the most value out of her when we are supposed to reintegrate her into society[1]. The time to argue she should still be in prison is passed. If you did not journey or send comment to the parole board prior to her release, then you did let your voice be heard.

“But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.”

I can understand this attitude in a single person, but you folks are friggin Harvard. Now, some Fox host is going to do a whole segment on how flexible your values are in the face of opposition.

Conservative politicians do this too when talking to the NYT and it is annoying. Stick to your damn guns or admit you don't actually believe in the principals you ran on. The voting booth back home is more important than being invited to the cool dinner parties.

1) can we get an article on how their rehabilitation works at that prison.

This story is an example of how rehabilitation is acceptable only in concept, not reality for many, regardless of what they might profess. The student added a personal statement (which wasn't required) about her crime and record. Yet, 2 people's "concerns", which they didn't bother to address with the applicant caused the admission to be rescinded. The school's decision in prioritizing appearances/what others will think above a student's future is repugnant.

Good to see she took it in stride:

“People don’t survive 20 years of incarceration with any kind of grace unless they have the discipline to do their reading and writing in the chaos of that place,” Jones said. “Forget Harvard. I’ve already graduated from the toughest school there is.”

There are things you can be rehabilitated from and there are things you can't. Also rehabilitation doesn't have too be complete.

Your point is unclear: Are you saying she isn't or can't be rehabilitated or her rehabilitation isn't complete?

For those interested in what her PhD research is actually about, I managed to track down one of her papers:

> Incarcerated Scholars, Qualitative Inquiry, and Subjugated Knowledge: The Value of Incarcerated and Post-Incarcerated Scholars in the Age of Mass Incarceration


It looks like it's mostly about the Indiana Women's Prison History Project which she participated in.

I'm actually disappointed by how meta that is. And puzzled by the fact that I'm that reaction.

So, Harvard has professors that don't understand/accept the principles of rehabilitation. Sad, but, unfortunately, hardly shocking. There are many people like this all around the world.

From the professors:

"If officials who take a careful look at the case decide that Harvard should move forward, then we think that the university should do everything in its power and ability to welcome Jones here and support her, and we are indeed happy to play a part in that effort,” they continued. “We have stated our concerns as questions, and we hope they are treated as nothing more nor less than questions, not as an implicit or explicit judgment against a person and her candidacy.”

The administrators that actually made the decision did not comment.

OTOH "we're just asking questions" is downright weasely.

There's a reason "just asking questions" is known as JAQing off. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Just_asking_questions

I think this is very interesting. If you're sitting in class and you find out that the person in your group project murdered a 4 year old at one point, I would understand if they were to be extremely uncomfortable. I would also understand if they accepted them and supported the rehabilitation. I don't know how to feel about it, really

Sure. I would probably feel uncomfortable too, but I stop short of saying others should be denied something because I feel uncomfortable. Otherwise, the world would be a very different place.

I think ultimately it's not just the feelings of discomfort, but more like a "tarnished" reputation for Harvard that it probably strives very hard to maintain. (Not that I agree with it)

Academia is largely political-- and politics has a long-running "tough on crime" stance.

In fairness, she is a convicted murderer. And just try to imagine the magnitude of the blowback if she ever did anything wrong on campus, particularly to some precious darling of wealthy and connected parents.

I'm not saying the Harvard administration made the right choice here, but they certainly had cause to be cautious.

So why ever release prisoners? Should institutions always be doubtful bystanders of the U.S. justice system and its rehabilitation guidelines?

> Should institutions always be doubtful bystanders of the U.S. justice system and its rehabilitation guidelines?

In some cases, that's how it works, yes. Many employers refuse to hire ex-cons. A felony conviction will bar you from some professional certifications entirely. And because of sex-offender registries, people convicted of sex crimes find it very difficult to live in built-up areas, since they are required to live away from areas frequented by children.

A serious criminal record is a quick ticket out of basically all of respectable society, including the part that people try to enter by earning lofty degrees from prestigious institutions of higher learning. We as a society clearly don't have anything close to full confidence in the rehabilitation of criminals.

Why ever release someone who murderered a 4-year-old? Do we need to bother to find out whether something can be saved there? Why not treat it like a traffic accident death and say "this person is equivalent to nonexistent" and keep her in the prison until she is dead?

> In fairness, she is a convicted murderer.

Who did her time and paid her dues to society. That's the point of rehabilitation.

What makes you think people get rehabilitated?

I've been less of a fan of "Shawshank Redemption" as I've grown older, cynically seeing it as being overly Pollyannish, but this sounds like a scene right out of it:

> Incarcerated in 1996, Jones worked for five years in the law library at Indiana Women’s Prison, and got certified as a paralegal. She received a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in 2004, and audited graduate-level classes at Indiana University.

> Her blossoming as a historian began in 2012, when Kelsey Kauffman, a former professor who volunteered at the prison, encouraged inmates to research the origins of their involuntary home, which opened in 1873 as the first adult female correctional facility in the United States. Soon, Jones was placing library requests for reference books and, when they arrived months later, scouring the footnotes for what to order next.


> I don't know that something like that is ever forgivable to me.

You aren't in position to give forgiveness. That belongs to the person she harmed and those that loved him. The conversation at hand is whether or not we continue punishing her because of what she did. That's no our job nor is it Harvards. They have every right to not accept her as a student should they believe it would put other people at risk. But that's not what happened here, what happened here is Harvard didn't want bad press.

That's pathetic and something I would expect literally anywhere outside of a prominent educational system that has an endowment the size of Harvard. This is exactly the type of thing it's supposed to be immune to.

Yikes, talk about an unsympathetic example for criminal justice reform.

There are plenty of felons who are unjustly punished well after they've left jail for crimes that weren't even that serious. Harvard deciding that they didn't want a child murderer around their undergrads isn't an example of that.

Also in today's news: "Chelsea Manning named visiting fellow at Harvard." http://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2017/09/13/c...

This feels like a weird echo of the Gina Grant case, which also featured stupid cowardly retraction of admissions on the part of Harvard administration.

Unrelated to the story but I'm not too fond of taking over the scroll wheel for transitions. Sure, it's a cool effect here but it tricked me into thinking I had my Ctrl key pressed down somehow.

It's not enough to make me leave but it is a bit disorienting, if not annoying.

Oh God I just spend 5 mins trying to figure out why they are zooming a picture on scroll, I thought it was bug in the site.

That was ghastly. I spent a full minute closing and re-opening the tab and refreshing. Why anyone would thing onScrollDown is a nice event to capture for a zoom-in on a portrait like that is beyond me. It almost felt like an extremely annoying troll.

On mobile, my first thought was that something had bugged out and caused single finger pinch-to-zoom. Had my digitizer broken...?

I'm looking at the page on a MBP and I can't read anything. How did you get it working? Both the touchpad and the up/down arrows just change the size of the text.

here is the nytimes version if that helps


I believe you just have to scroll down far enough.

Jesus, it makes it super horrible on mobile... enough to drive me away.

> Jones got pregnant at 14 after what she called non-consensual sex with a high-school senior.

Why minimize? Sounds like rape.

It may be difficult for her to talk about.

That's the presentation by the journalist, not a quote.

the bit you quote above does say "what she called", which seems to indicate it's an indirect quote.

"What she called" is the minimization that I object to.

She murdered a 4 year old child. Kept it secret for a period of time (two years).

Hid the body and mislead police on it's location to confuse them.

To this day it has not been found (One assumes because she is still keeping it hidden)

Also her boyfriend (the high-school senior) has never been charged with rape (and had custody of the child until he was 3 so one assumes no allegations were made back then)

But assuming it's true, she was the one who had 'non-consensual sex' so if she wants to call it that, that's her choice.

What right do you have to force her to chose the language of something that happened to her to conform to your politics?

You misunderstand me. I objected to the minimization of the rape. The "what she calls" language.

I think you are being political on the back of an awful incident / world.

And distracting from the important point, once a person does their time, society should also move on.

But to spell it out -

She has to stick to her story of all the awful things that happened to her (which I'm sure most did). But you can't just take it all at exact value.

If the story says it was rape (which is now a militarized word which is what you're trying for), it effects a real person's life, who possibly has a family.

If she's under playing it, it could be because she doesn't want to harm them, for many reasons. For instance it's not true.

I assume both parties were under age, so neither consented in some ways. And given the possibility of drugs etc who knows what really happened. They seemed to have had a further relationship. Everything seemed messed up in her life.

It wasn't "What she calls" it was "What she called", it's a quote and it seems to me the writer is helping her out.

She chose that phrasing, whatever happened to her when she was 14, happened to her. If she chooses it, it's her choice for her reasons, not yours.

A "high school senior" would have been at least 17, but given the academic environment was probably 19 or 20. So, he was more capable of consent than she was at 14.


We've banned both this account and your main account as well. Obviously no one is allowed to post to Hacker News like this.


(Users rightly flagged the parent comment, but I've unkilled it to be able to reply.)

As a father of three, the heinous crime against a small child, in the way described, in my mind, is unforgivable. I couldn't care less about here PHD - and that smug look in that picture makes her worse in my eyes, not "redeemed"

You don't beat a four year old child then leave them locked in an apartment to die.

Fuck her.

That's my only take. She murdered her child. Heinously, if the description is accurate. Harvard has the right to look at a person's entire resume when deciding whether to accept someone, and that is an incredibly dark black mark.

Prison is just the punishment the state metes out. No one's obligated to act as if she never murdered a child.

"But the American studies professors said in their memo to administrators that “honest and full narration is an essential part of our enterprise,” and questioned whether Jones had met that standard in framing her past. In the personal statement, which was not required, she did not detail her involvement in the crime, but wrote that as a teenager she left Brandon at home alone, that he died, and that she has grieved for him deeply and daily since.

"[John] Stauffer emphasized in interviews that he and his departmental colleague, Dan Carpenter, were simply trying to ensure that Harvard did its due diligence about the candidacy."

The objections serm to be

1. She would have a hard time fitting into Harvard. Which is horseshit.

2. She would potentially embarrass Harvard. Which is to be expected of administrators, but seems out of place for faculty. I wonder what the spineless wankers think of the idea of tenure.

3. She was not penitent enough.

So, yeah. Good job Harvard.

She beat her toddler son and left him to slowly die alone. The fact that people with such warped judgement are in charge of influential institutions such as Harvard is disconcerting to say the least.

What do you mean? When faculty uncovered more information about the crime (it strongly implies she minimized it), they refused to admit her. That sounds right to me.

I understand how this is considered unjust, but in a way, Harvard did her a favor.

If Harvard only wants to go to bat for Michelle Jones, august scholar, and not Michelle Jones, convicted murderer, then they don't deserve to draft off of her present work or academic legacy.

Good on NYU for sticking to their guns.

>> At her trial, a former friend testified that Jones confessed to having beaten the boy and then leaving him alone for days in their apartment, eventually returning to find him dead in his bedroom.

Jones was sentenced to 50 years in prison, but released after 20 based on her good behavior and educational attainment.

She could be brilliant and a huge asset to science, but personally don't think she deserves to get out after just 20 years. My opinion. For certain crimes, there's no coming back... You could "murder" your child by hitting him/her accidentally with the car, leaving them unattended etc etc, but this is way different. Real murder.

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