Julia G. Hall, 87, professor and leader in criminal justice

A memorial service will be held Thursday, April 13, for Julia G. Hall, 87, of Mount Airy, a college professor and leader in the Philadelphia criminal justice community, who died Thursday, Jan. 26, of complications from hypertension at her home.

For 44 years beginning in 1973, Dr. Hall taught undergraduate courses in sociology, psychology and criminology at Drexel University. 

Her specialty was the study of youth and the aged within the criminal justice system. Whenever she could, she used her knowledge to advocate for them.

She immersed herself in research data, and was able to recall facts whenever they were needed, her colleagues said. That skill made her a frequently sought-after member of legislative commissions and formal study groups at the local and state levels.

Dr. Hall was one of the longest-serving members of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an advocacy group for prisoners, former inmates, and their families. She was president for three years and a member for the last three decades.

“Never a firebrand or bomb thrower, her approach to advocacy was always dignified and fact-based,” wrote William DiMascio, former executive director of the society, in a tribute. “Despite her strong opposition to policies adopted during the get-tough-on-crime period, she maintained cordial relations with her harshest opponents in executive and legislative offices.”

Dr. Hall believed in alternatives to incarceration, and especially took issue with the treatment of juveniles sentenced to a life without parole. She thought restorative justice, which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the larger community, was a better approach than long incarcerations.

Putting her theories into action, she served as moderator of inmate youth and senior-citizen groups within prison walls. One such group was the Gray Panthers of Graterford Prison in Montgomery County. She also advocated for older inmates once they were released.

In a June 1, 1990 Inquirer article, Dr. Hall said that because many parole and probation agents were inexperienced, older ex-inmates were likely to run into trouble and be returned to prison.

"When a 65-year-old inmate returns to society after a long prison sentence, he is returning to a changed world," Dr. Hall said. "He doesn't know how to find a job, a place to live, or even how to connect with people his own age.

"With prison overcrowding, the last thing we need is for older parolees to return to prison for minor parole infractions because they can't make it in the outside world.”

She was as comfortable mingling with prisoners as she was with wardens and corrections officials. She wrote handbooks based on some of her theories and produced a documentary film, Correcting Our Elders.

Hoping to bridge the worlds of academia and real-life experience, Dr. Hall also brought undergraduate students into prison for supervised interaction with inmates.

A native Philadelphian, Dr. Hall was a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls. In 1968, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University, and in 1969 a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1973, she received a doctoral degree from Penn, where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Her interest in social psychology led her to do postdoctoral study at Harvard University.

She was adviser to the Drexel Chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society, and was a recipient of the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award from Drexel.

Retired Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, her friend and executrix, said Dr. Hall’s hobby was mentoring her students.

“She was so passionate about ensuring her students were thinkers and good citizens,” Hughes said.

Hughes said Dr. Hall was “smart, kind, generous, and a fierce fighter for the poor and underserved – especially those who were wrongly incarcerated.”

“She was an incredible teacher. She actually got me into teaching. Her students loved her. She was practical, detailed, and a very persuasive advocate,” Hughes said.

Dr. Hall was preceded in death by her husband, Federal Magistrate William Hall Jr., and a son, William Francis Hall 3d. She is survived by another son, Michael.

The memorial service will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at Drexel University’s Creese Center, Behrakis Grand Hall North, 3210 Chestnut St. Burial was private.