Criminal Justice Education in the Age of a Pandemic

Hello everyone! My name is Maureen Hartwell and I am a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy. This fall, I am working under Professor Chris Bonneau as the TA for the Inside Out class on mass incarceration. Normally we would have the opportunity to attend class alongside those who are incarcerated at regional correctional institutions; however, this is not possible during a global pandemic. To compensate for the lack of such experiential learning, Professor Bonneau and I have developed a curriculum which engages community members from the justice system in the greater Pittsburgh area. Specifically, we have reached out to former prosecutors, the Chief of Pitt Police, organizers from local nonprofits, and correctional officers, to name a few. These guest speakers will discuss their experience with the justice system and engage in a Q&A session with the students.

My hope is to give the Pitt students a holistic view of the justice system in the region despite the fact that they cannot have class alongside students from SCI Somerset or SCI Fayette. I think that this class will provide a unique experience for Pitt students to confront the parts of the justice system which they may not understand or may not agree with through conversations with those who have made it a career or passion. I think that I, too, will be able to grasp a better understanding of the nuances of the justice system through this format of the course. Furthermore, as a class of mostly seniors, I think that engaging with local leaders will allow students to network and develop prospects for post-graduation career plans.

As for me, I took this class last fall because I am very interested in institutional reform and the exploration of prison abolition. I intend to go to law school after I graduate from Pitt and study either criminal law or environmental law. I think that CUTF is giving me the tools to lead students who have similar goals; therefore, I am gaining a network of students in my future field. This experience is also providing me the chance to discuss prison reform with well-educated students, so I anticipate that I will learn just as much from them as they will from me.

Finally, I think this experience will be particularly fruitful during a pandemic which has showed us the many structural inequalities working against those who are incarcerated. I look forward to diving into how and why many people in correctional institutions already lack access to basic rights. More so, I look forward to discussing policy solutions to mitigate these inequalities.

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