MT. VERNON – A college-level pilot program in Illinois is being introduced to the area at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Mt. Vernon. It will place Rend Lake College students in one-on-one, face-to-face meetings with detainees at the JCSO. The goal is to take the students’ opinions on various topics and twist those points of view “inside-out.”
Inside-Out – called Issues In Corrections at RLC – is a college course that involves students from the outside and those on the inside. It explores the criminal justice system and the larger political, economic and social issues relating to the system.
Scheduled to begin in January, RLC students and JCSO detainees will get together at the jail and tackle topics such as why people get involved in crime, victims and victimization, myths and realities of prison life, punishment and rehabilitation, analysis of the criminal justice system and reflections on alternative forms of justice.
RLC Sociology Professor Dr. Sue Tomlin will be teaching the course. Tomlin has prior experience with teaching in the correctional system as an instructor of sociology courses at Big Muddy River Correctional Center.
“I loved it,” she said. “They were great students. They would always have completed their required reading before class. If there was any chance for an intellectual outlet, they jumped on it.”
Of course, safety comes first with such a course coming to RLC and the JCSO.
Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch said that although the detainees chosen will represent a variety of crimes or criminal charges, the students will not be matched with those charged or convicted of violent crimes. He added that the meetings will most likely take place in a secured, multi-purpose room that will be manned by a correctional officer and equipped with video and audio surveillance to strictly monitor the environment at all times. He said the students, after successfully passing a criminal background check, will receive a security briefing before the course commences. The detainees will also meet with JCSO administrators to discuss what behavior will and will not be tolerated.
“We run a maximum-security facility,” Mulch said.
According to Inside-Out sources, there has never been a single security problem since the program’s inception into curriculum at Temple University, at which time a criminal justice instructor, Lori Pampa, introduced it to the Philadelphia prison system. The original idea for Inside-Out came from a man named Paul, who is serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania.
To further insure students’ safety, the program has rules which call for first names only to be used and appropriate attire to be worn, as well as prohibit flirtation or inappropriate body language, passing of notes between students and any contact outside the program. Also, confidentiality is a must regarding personal information.
Mulch said he hopes the Inside-Out partnership of RLC and the JCSO will benefit the corrections and criminal justice systems by providing usable, valuable information that can be compiled and analyzed in the field of study.
“The history of law enforcement has been catching the bad guys and taking them off of the street,” he said. “But, recidivism has to be addressed. If Inside-Out is a tool that will aid that, then I am all for it.
“I’ve known Sue [Tomlin] a long time,” he said. “She is a very intelligent lady when it comes to new and visionary programs that are specifically matched with the criminal justice system. This is something to get excited about.”
Tomlin said 12 RLC students, matched with 12 detainees in the spring semester, will go to the JCSO where point-counterpoint articles relating to various correctional issues will be read. A couple of examples offered by Tomlin were “whether or not faith-based programs in prisons or jails are good and should dying prisoners receive compassionate release?” Compassionate release is releasing dying inmates, allowing them to spend their remaining time with family.
Issues In Corrections will be a discussion- and project-oriented class rather than a lecture- and test-oriented class, Tomlin explained. She added that JCSO detainees who are willing to cover tuition costs can get college credit for participating.
“The goal is for the students to discuss these issues with a different point of view,” she said. “It’s more for the outside students to discuss something with a point of view that they have never considered before.”
Students’ quotes provided by Inside-Out sources are testaments to the introspection the course can evoke in a student.
One Inside-Out student said, ““My brain never stopped processing information… each student adding to a steadily growing mosaic.... This is what a college class is all about.” Another said, “With enlightenment comes responsibility. We are all responsible. What is the next step after all this dialogue is done?”