Guest post by Nora Coon, law student at Lewis & Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon. This post is the last installment of the Border Criminologies Themed Week on Teaching Immigration Detention organised by Juliet Stumpf. In her introductory post, Juliet highlighted how this themed week resulted from a teaching experience that sought to combine ‘traditional academic study with real-life engagement in legal change by drafting amicus briefs, writing scholarly articles, and drafting practice advisories or policy briefs, documents that serve as vehicles for shaping legal rules and administrative policy to initiate transformation in a legal regime. It is only fitting then that the very last post of the week Nora reflects on the challenges and opportunities of such innovative ways of teaching.

Perhaps foolishly, I didn’t think the initial task was too daunting: co-author a series of three blog posts about the current state of family detention. One month into class, we had started to discuss in concrete terms some of the issues that the posts on Border Criminologies would delve into. But as it turned out, translating law school class readings and discussions into the language of data and academia was a bit harder than that.

First, while I had a handle on the basic legal framework under which I was analyzing the issue—due process under the US Constitution—after nearly two years in law school, I was used to conveying information in legal rather than academic terms. Early attempts skimmed over the data and statistics and focused entirely on the logic of the analysis. Writing the posts required a much harder look at the underlying concepts and data that we were dealing with. It’s one thing to read an article, study, or report and discuss it in class; it’s quite another to take the underlying data and try to use it to support your own written assertions. Previous law school classes were not generally concerned with empirical or statistical research. We focused on the legal rules that governed issues and left the gathering and interpretation of data to social scientists.

Second, it was difficult to avoid approaching the blog posts from an advocacy perspective. Given the subject matter of our class, it was easy to align naturally with one side of the debate, and so I had to work hard to focus on what the data seemed to show rather than jumping immediately to the conclusions that I drew from it. Ultimately, Shannon and I tried to accomplish blog posts that showed each step of our thought processes so that other academics and researchers would be able to determine for themselves whether they agreed with our premises.

We hope that these posts illuminate areas where further research will allow both scholars and advocates to better understand the processes and consequences of family detention in the United States.

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Coon, N. (2015). Writing about Family Detention: From a Legal to Academic to Advocacy Approach. Available at: (Accessed [date]).