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Law Student's Past in Justice System Discussed at Criminology Conference

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Amir Whitaker

Amir Whitaker. (Photo: Miami Law) Full-Size Photo

Amir Whitaker, a second-year Miami Law student, brought his own experiences in the juvenile justice system to a presentation he gave at the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology in Chicago. Whitaker's address, "Understanding the Most At-Risk for Incarceration: Black Males with Disabilities," focused on his research and insights on race and crime, and on what he described as systematic policies and practices related to race.

Growing up in Plainfield, N.J., Whitaker recalled, he often visited his parents while they were incarcerated. As a 15-year-old, he was himself arrested, deepening his immersion in the juvenile justice system. He later earned a Doctorate and a Master's degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor's degree in Art History from Rutgers University. Whitaker is the founder of Project Knucklehead, a non-profit juvenile rehabilitation program that works with at-risk youth and toward creating a more therapeutic criminal and juvenile justice system.

Whitaker, 28, said his address in Chicago was a combination of knowledge gained at Miami Law, including the community lawyering work he does as part of the Historic Black Churches Program, and his experience in the juvenile system. "It focused on a phenomenon called the 'schoolhouse to jailhouse' pipeline, about which Professor Anthony V. Alfieri has written extensively," he said. "Attending the conference allowed me to engage in critical discourse with other scholars about issues of race and crime, sharing some of the work we are doing here to combat these issues."

"The Historic Black Church Program is incredibly blessed by Amir's contribution to our Community Education Project this fall in terms of both student leadership and academic knowledge," Professor Alfieri said. "His personal experience and professional training have earned important credibility with the inner city communities we serve, and his vision and research have brought a new and exciting dimension to our interdisciplinary collaboration with other academic units at the university."

Whitaker's collaborator on the presentation was Vanessa Thorrington, a Ph.D. candidate at UM's School of Education who consults with Miami Law's Children and Youth Clinic.