College offers courses at correctional facility

Sociology professor Scott Melzer and political science professor Bill Rose have received approval to teach a course each at Jackson’s Cotton Correctional Facility through the Inside-Out Program.

The program began in the mid-1990s as a way for students to gain a unique perspective from incarcerated individuals. This course allows 15 students to be taught in a classroom with 15 incarcerated individuals.

“The philosophy of the program is that everyone is a student,” Melzer said.  “We try to have the experience be essentially identical to how it is on the outside for inside students.  They’re doing the same readings and same assignments having the same conversations we do all of that together.”

Dr. Rose will be teaching his Law, Justice, and Society [LJS] course at Cotton in the fall, and Dr. Melzer will be teaching his Men and Masculinities class in the spring.

Students will leave campus together once a week for a 20-minute drive to Cotton, where they will then have a two and a half to three hour seminar with the inmates.

Cotton Correctional is a level two facility, meaning that the inmates are there on good behavior and have been there a while. Inmates of all ages will be allowed to sign up for the seminar, but Inside-Out does not allow convicted sexual offenders to take part in its program.

Though it’d be ideal to jump into the course material right away, both professors have had to make adjustments to how they’re going to teach their respective classes given the unique environment.

“There will be a lot of early-on icebreakers and stuff like that, that I wouldn’t normally do in the LJS class, that will become a part of this class,” Rose said. “There’s also, part of the process to be engaged in by both the inside and outside students is coming together, getting to know one another and so forth.”

Due to the particular nature of the program, there has already been an informational session about it.  Miranda McCrady, Ypsilanti junior, is considering signing up for the course.

“I think it’ll be interesting to hear about these different concepts from the perspective of someone who has lived this life,” McCrady said. “They know what’s going on but I feel like they have a totally different take about issues we’ll bring up.”

After a year and a half of working towards this approval, both professors are excited to start it and to see what the students will take away.

“I think they will get a unique perspective of the criminal justice system. Prisons are, for the most part, hidden from the general population,” Rose said. “We punish behind close doors, and we’ve done that for a long time, so for most students, if they don’t have a family member or close friend or something like that, they’ve never been inside a prison.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

About Joshua Van Laan 39 Articles
Josh Van Laan is currently a sociology major from Clinton Township.

1 Comment

  1. Looks like a very interesting and life-building opportunity for the students in these courses. I suggest that you guys write a follow-up piece after the class is done, interviewing the professors and students who took it to talk more about their experiences.

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