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03/19/2009

Inside Out

It is ironic that, in a country founded upon the value of liberty, there are 2.3 million persons who are behind bars on any given day.  The costs of this, economic and human, are enormous, yet jail and prison populations continue to increase.  This month's Cato Institute's series, Cato Unbound, offers several diverging viewpoints on this issue.  It's a discussion that we need to have.

Incarceration is also the focus of a course this semester at USP where students are getting a close look at incarceration from an unusual vantage point.  The class, called Inside Out, takes place in one of the Philadelphia jail facilities and has 12 USP undergraduate students learning about criminal justice side by side with an equal number of students who are incarcerated in that facility.  The curriculum, developed at Temple University and now taught in over 50 colleges and universities nationwide, provides an introduction to criminal justice issues.  But just as important is the learning that comes when the two groups of students interact.  The misperceptions that both "inside" and "outside" students carry into their first class together are challenged as they get to know one another and give way to intense discussions on topics such as why people commit crime, how prisons should function, and the duality of victims and victimization. 

Students leave the class just as they came - with a range of opinions.  But along the way they learn to think about criminal justice in a new way and with a new awareness for the diversity of the people and viewpoints affected by these issues.  And hopefully they will all become better citizens as a result.

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