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UNC professors create graphic book to help simplify the prison system

Graphic Book Cover.jpg
Graphic courtesy of James Markham

The state prison system can be complex, but a professor of UNC's School of Government created an educational graphic novel with illustrations and diagrams that simplify the incarceration process for accused young people entering the system. 

James Markham, a professor in the school of government, said he came up with the idea to make the lives of accused individuals, current prisoners and their families easier. 

“I think it’s hard for people on their own, and even with the help of a lawyer, it’s hard to look at North Carolina sentencing law and really get a good understanding of what it means,” he said. 

Shane Tharrington, an employee in the prison division of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety who helped Markham with the book, said it will especially help young offenders. 

“A big majority of the offenders we get nowadays, they’re younger, they’re less apt to want to read a narrative about what’s going on with their situation and the idea of a graphic novel, to me, seemed perfect for this new generation of people that are coming into our system in adult correction,” he said. 

Markham said two sequels will come out within the next two years and will cover different parts of the legal system. 

“One is about being on probation," Markham said. "There are a lot more people on probation in North Carolina than there are in prison — more than twice as many. And then the other one is about serving time in jail — in the county jail — instead of prison, which is where most people spend their time for misdemeanor sentences or impaired driving." 

Jason Whitley, web applications developer in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and illustrator of the novel, said the narrative structure of the book will help people better understand the system. 

“We have this character that’s going to go through all the different pathways through the legal system, and by having that character, you tell a story in a way that’s more difficult to do just in text,” he said. 

Tharrington said the book has been well-received in its limited release, but that he and Markham are looking to get feedback to improve it. 

“We’re going to do a control group where we give out the book to newly arriving offenders in the prison system and then ask for their feedback so that we can have an idea of where it’s good, where it’s not so good, how it was received and what we can do to tweak it going forward on subsequent printings,” he said. 

Tharrington said in the future, they may translate the book for those in the system whose first language is not English. 

“After (Markham) had all three complete, we hoped to get them translated using the same artwork and illustrations, just have them translated for primarily our Spanish-speaking population," Tharrington said.


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