Museum focuses on justice system

March 7, 2011
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this post.

If you ever find yourself in Washington, D.C., have a few hours, and want to visit a place where there is so much to see I can almost promise you will learn something new, I highly recommend the National Museum of Crime & Punishment, 575 7th St. NW.

I learned about the museum in early 2009 from a friend who lives in Washington. We worked it into the last day of my recent visit because it seemed like an appropriate end to my trip to visit the FBI last week. (Read more about that in the March 16-29, 2011, issue of Indiana Lawyer).

Before checking it out, the only thing I really knew about the museum was that John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted,” was instrumental in getting it started and that “America’s Most Wanted” is filmed in the museum’s basement.

The museum, which opened in May 2008, is meant to be a realistic response to the dramatized version of crime and punishment most of us are familiar with from TV and movies. While there is a dramatic element to it, visitors also get to see many artifacts of crime and punishment, including “murderabilia” and a re-creation of Al Capone’s jail cell, while still learning of the historical and modern issues of the justice system in the U.S.

Visitors first see exhibits about the history of crime and punishment, including medieval devices and Puritanical methods of punishing people for crimes that are no longer crimes, such as kissing your wife on the Sabbath. There was also information about the inexact science of doling out punishments: a woman might be publicly ridiculed for the same crime that, if committed by a man, the man would pay a fine.

There is also a section on pirates, including weapons they used, an explanation of the different flags they would fly, and a couple stories about pirates who were women.

The museum weaves in the history of law enforcement, including agencies that sought to find outlaws in the West in the 1800s, to the role of the FBI and other agencies when fighting gangsters like Indiana’s own John Dillinger in the 1920s and 1930s.

While there is too much to summarize in a blog post, a few highlights were the section on American prisons, including the evolution of how prisoners have been treated while incarcerated; a section on the death penalty, which included a guillotine, an electric chair, and a re-creation of a gas chamber; and police simulators where visitors can choose if and when to use deadly force in various scenarios.

There was also a simulated crime scene where visitors see how detectives handle and examine evidence. That section was very interactive – visitors could see the various pieces of evidence investigators would be interested in such as bullet holes in the wall, a powdery substance on a mirror by the bed, a datebook, and blood. A little later, there was a mannequin on a slab with a video to explain how crime lab workers determine information about the victim’s stab and gunshot wounds.

The museum has rooms for special exhibits and programs. The day I was there, there was a CSI demonstration, and there was an exhibit featuring props and the history behind the story for the upcoming movie “The Conspirator” directed by Robert Redford about what happened after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

While most museums in Washington, D.C., are free, the National Museum of Crime & Punishment is definitely worth the price of admission, about $20 for adults. There is a lot to see there, and I’d recommend planning a day or at least an afternoon in the museum to get your money’s worth.
 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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