Life Inside: Society of Prisons

Students explore the society of prisons over J-term.

What the course catalog says:

What are prisons and jails really like? This course examines different types of correctional institutions from several perspectivesthe inmates, workers, administrators, family members, lawmakers, and researchers. Students will discuss the myths and realities of prison life and current issues facing the correctional system. They will also have the opportunity to visit the correctional institutions in the area.

What the professors says:

Being a criminologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about what leads people to commit crime, as well as the consequences for doing so. I’m also interested in the equity of consequences among different groups of individuals. Additionally, with my interests in social justice I feel that these types of classes are an incredible opportunity to shed light on topics and issues that many are not knowledgeable of, but which affect every person in our society.  

For this course I wanted students to first understand how and why the U.S. has become the world leader in terms of incarceration and explore the social and economic costs of doing so. The second goal was to critically address the disparate treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and children in today's prisons and the criminal justice system more generally. Lastly, I wanted to illuminate the realities of living and working inside a prison environment. The course materials I included this semester were three books and several articles and documentaries that addressed different aspects of the prison system.

At the end of the course, each student compiled and presented a literature review on a topic of their choosing related to incarceration. These reviews included a wide range of topics such as: maximum security prisons, three-strikes laws, mental health issues, pregnancy in prison, health care in prison, and capital punishment, among others. It was a great opportunity to learn more about topics that were briefly touched on during the class while allowing students to focus on a topic that they're especially interested in.

—Joseph Kremer, assistant professor of sociology

What a student says:

I chose this course because I’ve always been interested in prison life based on what I’ve seen in movies and read in books. I wanted the chance to dive deeper into the subject and learn the truth about prison.

This course was much different than any other course I’ve taken because we met five days a week for three hours a day and it was the only course on my schedule. It was also unique because we not only learned from the material but we also took a field trip to a prison where we talked to inmates and the people who work there. Hearing about their experiences helped us achieve a greater understanding of their situation beyond what we learned about in the classroom.

—Luke Pulliam

This course provided a great opportunity for students to grapple with tough issues and become motivated to make positive social changes in our society.

—Joseph Kremer, assistant professor of sociology

With only one academic focus for the month, the class really captured my interest and I found myself looking deeper into the topics discussed in class rather than just the required material. I learned something almost everyday regarding the subject matter that was unexpected.

—Luke Pulliam