A visit from the school of hard knocks

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Emily Horowitz spends a lot of time with people other professors don’t. Criminals. Domestic violence victims. Domestic violence perps. Sex offenders. Guys convicted of murder.

A teacher of sociology and criminology at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, she introduces her students to the same folks she is meeting in an effort to change the lives of all of them.

Horowitz is one of those people who walks the walk. Before coming to St. Francis, she got her PhD in sociology at Yale, concentrating in women’s studies and decided to spend a year in Brooklyn’s domestic violence court, watching as women finally got justice.

But … that wasn’t what she saw.

“It was just poor and unemployed men being slammed over and over,” says Horowitz, a mom of four.

Horowitz agrees that if a man slapped his partner, he should be punished, but she thought the harsh sentences she witnessed weren’t designed to improve anyone’s prospects.

She began to regard the criminal justice system with curiosity: How much was overkill baked into the system?

To find out, she started inviting convicts who had been exonerated to speak to her class. People such as Marty Tankleff, who falsely confessed to killing his parents; Jesse Friedman, notorious from the movie “Capturing the Friedmans;” and even Bernard Baran.


“Bernard was a working class, gay teenager who dropped out of high school in the late ’80s because he was bullied. He started working at a day care center,” says Horowitz. “But a couple went to the head of the day care and said they didn’t want a ‘homo’ watching their son. And the day care said, ‘We can’t fire a person because of that.’ Lo and behold, the couple alleged that Baron molested their son,” says Horowitz.

Baran was found guilty and given three life sentences. The judge said that putting a gay man in a day care center was like putting a chocoholic in a candy store — as if being a gay man and being a child molester were the same thing.

The National Center for Reason and Justice championed Baran’s case, and he was finally freed after more than 20 years behind bars.

He told the class what it was like to be a gay man in prison who had been convicted of child molestation: They put cigarettes out on his head. He was beaten. He was raped more than 30 times.

As he told his story, students wept. Those tears — and those students — will go on to make a difference, Horowitz says, because many of her students go on to careers in law enforcement.

“Now they will have a much more nuanced view of the people they’re dealing with,” she said.

A couple of years ago, Horowitz taught a women’s studies class at the Bedford Hills women’s prison in Westchester. There she learned that until the ’90s, prisoners could get financial aid for college courses. New York State put an end to that, and the number of inmates getting an education plummeted — even though the recidivism rate for people who get college degrees in prison is under five percent.

But a trickle of students still do manage to take classes behind bars, and Horowitz is determined to make sure that at least some of them get the chance earn their degrees once freed. So this school year, she arranged for five formerly incarcerated students to matriculate at St. Francis. One has already proved such an amazing scholar — straight As — that the school is sending her on a Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi. After all, St. Francis was all about helping and forgiveness.

Her latest project is the just-published book, “Protecting Our Kids? How Sex Offender Laws are Failing Us” (Praeger, 2015).

Ever the researcher, Horowitz discovered that the belief that sex offenders must be continually monitored to keep kids safe is based on fear, not fact.

“Once people are no longer a threat, you don’t have to punish them to the point where you destroy their lives,” she says. “I’m not pro sex offender, I’m pro move-on-with-your-life-once-you’ve-been-punished.”

She’ll be reading from her book this Sunday night, June 7, at the Bluestockings bookstore, 172 Allen St., on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, at 7 pm. Admission is free.

If you’re wondering what it looks like when an academic talks the talk, walks the walk, and changes the lives of future cops and former convicts, don’t miss it.

I know I won’t.

Read Lenore Skenazy's column every Sunday morning on

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John from Sunset Park says:
The Emily Horowitz's of the world deserve recognition like this.

keep up the good work.
June 7, 2015, 1:25 am
ty from pps says:
knock knock
who's there
skanazy who
skanazy for you to say
June 7, 2015, 7:37 am
mark from Canada says:
Cosby Bill now accused of drugging and raping 49 women in various countries.
Please CARE: HELP eliminate the "Rape Culture" TODAY.
We must never ever grow tired of hearing about or defending these victims.
These victims represent all of us, our families, our children, our daughters.
Talk to people; contact Governments, Media, Celebrities, Friends, etc...
Share this message with everyone. Why, VICTIMS MATTER. Thank you for caring.

IN A PERFECT WORLD heroes never disappoint us. We don’t live in a perfect world.
Cosby an accused rapist has no one to blame but himself. Cosby owns this.
Cosby when it comes to "Innocent until Proven Guilty" is a cliché, a joke!
For due process to happen we must be relentless in sharing these messages.

AS OF JUNE 1, 2015 there are 49 accusers and counting. Cosby has been accused of raping for 50 years, not just once 30 years ago. The "Statute of Limitations" does not apply to serial rapists. It never has! All research concludes Cosby may be the world’s most notorious “Sociopath International Serial Rapist”. He's hiding in plain sight!
Diplomatic Immunity! Governments at his bidding! JUSTICE DENIED!

WHEN ANYONE IS ABOVE THE LAW; then there is no law for anyone. Governments and Courts everywhere share a fiduciary duty to prosecute accused serial rapists. How many victims were sacrificed and other crimes committed because prosecution was denied! Why! Wealth, Power and Politics! Many corrupt people in power censure factual comments and protect wealthy felons from prosecution. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”! ‘His final defense will be “He’s Incompetent”! Social Justice mandates Cosby face due process, “in absentia”, if necessary. End this debate, bring closure for everyone. At the very least Cosby will be confirmed innocent or be convicted a serial rapist.

If you question these results, you are encourage to do your own research.

1) 98% of rape victims don't lie.
2) 95% of rape crimes are never reported because victims fear rapist reprisal.
3) The 49 accusers may represent 5% of Cosby's victims.
4) It requires 2 confirmed victims to be a serial rapist.
5) 85% of serial rapists are also guilty of incest and or murder.

50 Actual Facts About Rape | Soraya Chemaly
Rape: A Lack of Conviction | Information Is Power
97 of Every 100 Rapists Receive No Punishment, RAINN
Rape statistics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Why are rape conviction rates falling? - Channel 4 News
June 7, 2015, 10:35 am
old time brooklyn from slope says:
Great article Lemore - loved reading you when you were the daily news (and SE Cupp as well) - common sense a breath of fresh air
June 7, 2015, 10:35 am

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