Category Archives: teaching

Inside-Out Class in the Juvenile Facility

My first Inside-Out class in a juvenile correctional facility is quickly drawing to a close on our 10 week quarter system.  The word cloud featured here is how the students described the experience.  I asked each of the 27 students (from OSU and from the facility) to write three words that described our class, and this is what they came up with.  Fun, eye-opening, interesting, thought-provoking…I’ll take it!  Those are pretty good adjectives to describe any college class.

Along with Sarah Ferrer’s guest editorial in The Oregonian newspaper, there have been other interesting products from this short class.  First, we’ve added on to the We are the 1 in 100 tumblr site that was started in last fall’s class in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Next, several of this quarter’s outside students were featured in a story in Oregon State University’s student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.  In the story, they share their enthusiasm for the experience and the group service-learning projects they are working on with the inside students.  The last lines of the story:

The students are all very grateful to have taken part in the class and encourage other students to take advantage of it in future terms. “This class is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Settelmeyer said. “It does a great job of sparking student interest in making a difference and walks us through starting to do just that.”

Finally, I’m working again the with the Think Out Loud crew from Oregon Public Radio.  They are going to be taping their hour-long show tonight in the youth facility with my class.  The show is scheduled to air tomorrow morning at 9:00.  It should be available on OPB’s website (to stream or download as a podcast) shortly after.  The major question that emerged from our pre-show interviews, “From inside Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility we ask inmates: what is happening in prison to make them better citizens when they are released?”  I’m hoping for a fun, eye-opening, interesting, thought-provoking (sound familiar?) and very positive show.

So, for one brief class, I think we’ve done our part for public criminology and bringing attention to issues surrounding prisons and juvenile correctional facilities and their impacts on both those inside the walls and on the larger community.  I’ll be sorry to see this class end, but I am looking forward to a long and rewarding relationship with Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility and the Oregon Youth Authority.

girl trouble

january will bring new challenges. i will be taking 8 or 9 oregon state university students (all female) into our state’s primary girls’ correctional facility to share class once a week with 8 female inmates. i’ve taught a number of inside-out classes with adult males in the maximum-security penitentiary, and my dissertation research was with violent males in an end-of-the-line juvenile facility, but working with young females will be a whole new experience.

i chose/volunteered to do this for many good reasons, and i am hopeful that we will have a positive outcome for all involved. this facility just reopened in february to house the majority of the females committed to close custody by the oregon youth authority. oya is planning to implement gender-specific programming in the facility, and i am hoping to build strong connections and to get my students involved from the beginning.

the latest news, however, is that eight girls in the facility assaulted and injured three staff members in a premeditated escape attempt. apparently, they staged a fake fight and then attacked the staff members with homemade weapons. the girls ranged in age from 13-17. all three male staff members needed medical attention; one had a head wound that required 32 staples to close it.

i’m not sure what to think of this. strange as it may sound, i feel completely safe in the maximum-security men’s prison, but somehow these teenage girls seem more volatile and more of a risk to work with. it may have something to do with the numbers. i have 15 students in the penitentiary at any given time out of approximately 2300 inmates. the girls’ facility only holds about 70, so to have eight involved in an aggressive escape attempt is to have more than 10% of the population plotting against the staff. i’ll have eight girls in my class, but my girls/young women will presumably be a different eight than those involved in the escape attempt, and it’s likely that most of them will be 18 or older (oregon youth authority can hold young people up to age 25).

it’s a lot to think about before our first class session in january. if anyone has any thoughts or advice for working with this population, i’d love to hear it.

public criminology from the classroom

my inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary this fall was an exercise in engaging in public criminology from the classroom. of course, i would argue that holding the class in a maximum-security prison already makes it a form of public criminology, but this quarter we took our efforts several steps further. along with reading two books, writing several essays, and getting to know students from the other side of the wall (inmates from the penitentiary and college students from oregon state university), the class developed a community service project and wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers.

the focus of the class was on delinquency prevention. i challenged the 31 students to work together to come up with group projects that they could implement in less than 10 weeks. it was a difficult process at times, but they ultimately did a great job. the most visible aspect of the project was a hygiene drive to collect new products (shampoo, toothbrushes, tooth paste, razors, deodorant, gloves, socks, etc.) for at risk and homeless teens. perhaps most impressive given their relative resources, inmates in the penitentiary donated nine boxes of new items they purchased at the prison canteen. we added more donations from prison staff, sociology faculty, and the osu football team; we also bought several more bags of products with money raised by the outside students. 10 of the outside students (in the photo) and i had a great time dropping off the donations at the HOME youth & resource center in salem.

along with the hygiene drive, students went through and painstakingly updated a resource guide for homeless teens. inmates from the class wrote anonymous letters to the at-risk youth, offering their stories and testimonials and encouraging the youth to make the best possible choices in their own lives. the class also created “truth and consequences” templates for table tents that offer facts about crime and sentencing, personal examples, and encouragement to young people; they sent the templates to local high schools in case they choose to use them in their lunchrooms.

finally, this sunday the salem statesman journal devoted most of the space on its opinion pages to our inside-out class, publishing an editorial about the class and our project; excerpts from eight inmates’ letters to the editor; and excerpts from four outside students’ letters to the editor. if you get a chance, check them out. you might be surprised what the guys inside have to add to a conversation about preventing delinquency or the impact of mandatory-minimum sentences.

all in all, i think it was a pretty successful quarter and a good example of bringing public criminology into — or, more accurately, out of — the classroom.

trying to do good

i’ve been spending a lot of time in the oregon state penitentiary lately. i’m currently teaching my fifth inside-out class and it continues to be an inspiring, rejuvenating experience. it’s amazing how much good will can be generated in a tiny room on the fifth floor of a maximum-security prison where 15 oregon state university students come together with 15 (or so) inmates in order to learn and work together. the inmates in the group are men who are working hard to change their lives and to make their time behind bars meaningful. of the approximately 2300 men in the penitentiary, i’ve selected about 60 to participate in inside-out classes; as such, i’m well aware that i’ve worked with a skewed sample of the best citizens in the prison. we’ve received good press for the program and i’ve been singled out for some honors for my part in the process, but what i appreciate most is knowing that these classes have offered hope and motivation in a place where both can be very hard to find.

this quarter, we’re focusing again on the topic of preventing delinquency, and i’ve challenged the class try to figure out what action(s) they can take to make a difference. they’re trying to come up with small-scale projects that can be implemented relatively quickly and with no budget. a challenge, to be sure.

and so, i’ll offer my own small-scale project as an example. i applied for a “literacy grant” from a national program last year and did not get it. because i thought the idea was a good one, i pitched it to administrators at the penitentiary and they agreed to fund a pilot program (two inmate clubs are also providing funding). it’s a simple enough idea, but it just might make a difference: incarcerated fathers will have a chance to sign up to read the same books as their children. with help from the lifer’s club (and others), we’ll start with a volunteer group of fathers and their children. with help from local librarians and bookstores, i’ll choose age-appropriate, interesting books and give one to the father and one to the kid. reading the same book(s) will hopefully give them another chance to connect, another topic to discuss, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or via mail. the fathers are enthusiastic about the idea; presumably the kids who agree to participate will get on board if we choose good books.

simple, small-scale, do-able. i’m hoping this little program succeeds and grows. i don’t know if it will make a difference, but at least we’re trying to do good and we’re working to translate our good intentions into action.

if anyone has suggestions for the program, for projects for the inside-out students, or recommendations for interesting kid/teen books, i would love to hear them.

inside higher ed on sociology/criminology job mismatch

scott jaschik offers another nice inside higher ed piece today, based on a new american sociological association report on employment opportunities in academic sociology. an excerpt:

More than one third of the assistant professor positions did not specify a subfield. But the top subfield specified (nearly three times more than the runner up) was criminology/delinquency, and the sixth most popular subfield was a related one, law and society. The concern of those who prepared the report is that evidence suggests grad students are focused elsewhere.

i spoke with mr. jaschik on friday, so my opinions on this issue are well-represented in the article. i won’t say more, except to add a few words of reassurance for sociology grad students with specialties outside criminology. though crim is the top specialty area identified, there were 227 positions listed as “field open” in the ASA report, often in top departments. my sense is that these open positions often go to areas such as stratification, demography, and political sociology.

that caveat aside, the ASA report is also reassuring to me as an advisor — the market continues to be exceptionally strong for sociological criminologists. here are the top specialties specified in job postings for sociology assistant professors in 2006:

Field and Number of Positions
Field open 227
Criminology/delinquency 86
Quantitative methods/statistics 29
Theory 21
Urban/community 19
Race and ethnicity 19
Law and society 15
Medical 13
Race, class and gender 12
Demography 11
Family 11
Social psychology 11
Culture 10
Organizations/Economic 10
Stratification/Labor Markets 9
Policy Analysis/Public Policy 8
Education 7
Environment 7
Latino/Latina 7
Political/Social Movements 7
Aging/Social Gerontology 6
Applied Sociology/Evaluation Research 5
Social Welfare/Social Work 5
Other Fields 75
Total 610

dr. hlavka

we’re celebrating a new ph.d. in the department, after heather hlavka’s successful defense of her dissertation, the trouble with telling: children’s constructions of sexual abuse.

dr. hlavka analyzed ten years of case files and videotaped forensic interviews with children seen for suspected cases of sexual abuse. the diss is powerful stuff, rendered with great care, sensitivity, and sophistication. she shows how the meaning of sexual abuse is negotiated in interaction with adults, but keeps the children’s voices front-and-center throughout. a systematic research design yields clear (and disturbing) generalizations about social power and barriers to disclosure. in short, she’s got me questioning just about everything we (think we) know about the age, race, class, and gender distribution of child sexual abuse.

dr. hlavka will be professin’ at marquette university this fall, where she will join darren wheelock, a fellow minnversity sociologist.

the good class

i gave my final lecture today, to a much-loved group of 55 students that i’m gonna miss every tues and thurs at 12:45. every couple years, a teacher gets a class that’s a little more fun/serious/intense/honest than yer average collection of students. this one laughed at most of my jokes, didn’t complain when lectures went a little long, and asked good hard questions. they even caught the li’l musical intros i played before class. more importantly, of course, they thought hard about sociological criminology and put some good work in on their papers and exams.

i can understand how they might’ve heard air or al green before, but how does a twenty-year-old know all the words to a song by the sonics, tony joe white, or the seeds? anyway, this was a pretty cool group of future sociologists, cops, social workers, lawyers, probation officers, and journalists. i hope they crush on the final.

halving the homicide rate

hillary clinton unveiled an ambitious $4 billion proposal to halve the homicide rate in major american cities. the plan involves adding 100,000 new police officers and targeting gangs, drug markets, and illegal gun trafficking.

you might recognize (all of?) these elements from the 1992 clinton crime bill. this is great news for my teaching, since i can now dust off a killer essay question on the anticipated impact of 100,000 officers on the perceived certainty of apprehension and punishment. i’m also intrigued by the weapons interdiction aspects of the proposal. if you click on the chart above, you’ll see how gun homicide rates have fluctuated wildly relative to non-gun rates over the past three decades.

perspective

is it possible to make a difference in a student’s education in just one day? i guess it depends on the day.

having taught three inside-out classes in the oregon state penitentiary, i can say with absolute certainty that spending a quarter learning inside a maximum-security prison can change a life. i’ve seen it happen with my students, both inside (inmates) and outside (osu students). they learn about each other and from each other in ways that forever change their perspectives about crime, conformity, punishment, and prisons.

the challenge for me lately is to figure out if i can extend that kind of learning opportunity to more students in my larger on-campus classes. the first experiment took place this week when i took a dozen osu students into the penitentiary to meet with the lifer’s club. for me, the main goal was to humanize the other — to let the two groups interact and ask each other questions in a relatively informal setting (there were ground rules, of course, including strict limits as to the personal information exchanged. i was in no way bringing a dating pool into the prison). i wasn’t sure how much would be accomplished in one 2-hour session, but the students and the lifers were eager for the opportunity to meet. after getting through all the red tape, i was happy to facilitate the meeting between the two groups.

so what was the result? i asked the osu students for feedback and here are excerpts from some of their comments:

Thank you so much for giving me and the other students the opportunity to have an experience such as this one. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my college career. I appreciate it. I thought the lifers were great. I think it’s only natural for everyone to be a little nervous at first so I don’t know how to get around that, but they were all very open and respectful, and most were very eager to have discussion after a little warming up. I got so many different perspectives and insights from them, it was very beneficial.

The time we spent with the lifers was really life changing on how I now view prisons and inmates. I had never been to a prison before and definitely have never spoken to a big room of convicts. Every single inmate that I was able to talk with was very respectful of me and the other students in my group. I was surprised that so many had a positive outlook on life, even after being locked up for years and having many years to go until they had a chance of parole and some not even having that chance.

I went into this thinking these are all going to be bad guys with no personality, very mean, no remorse. I was really nervous when they all walked out. But after talking to a lot of them you realize they are humans too.

I would just really encourage those who participated to share with others what you saw, what you experienced, and encourage people to open their eyes and hearts to the idea that these men are PEOPLE, people who have paid a huge debt for their crimes and should be forgiven and given a chance to succeed in life.

so, i guess you can make a significant difference and push the limits of education in one day. it’s good to know. tomorrow morning i have a meeting at a correctional facility for girls and young women to discuss ways that my delinquency and sociology of education students might work with them in service-learning projects spring quarter (as in later this month). it will be an enormous amount of work to set it up, but it just may be worth it.

on another note, this blog will be moving to a new address shortly and it looks like we may be gaining new friends and readers in the process. stay tuned…

criminal anagrams from a hog-sprung heretic

i enjoy playing with anagrams, rearranging my kids’ names to fit some aspect of their personalities. for example, tor stanley uggen has the same letters as both gentle guy on star and let’s not anger guy. yeah, that sounds about right.

it won’t surprise my students to learn that christopher uggen is actually code for hog-sprung heretic, and, given my minnesota biases, gopher guts enrich. wondering whether similar magic applies for the sociological criminologists i’ve been teaching in my delinquency class this year, i came up with the following variations without too much trouble. i’m self-censoring here, because some of the really funny ones seemed too cruel or unfair. i trust you can figure them out on your own, if so inclined.

let’s start with the classics. cesare lombroso whose criminal man connected primitive features with criminality in 1870, can be nicely anagramed into a slob score more. hmm. that rather nicely sums up atavistic theory, doesn’t it?

it is tougher to reconcile clifford shaw’s great work with his name. somehow scaffold whir or lads chow riff fail to capture the essence of social disorganization theory. how about my intellectual great grandfather, learning theorist edwin a. sutherland? it pains me to say so, but his critics might view he did learn, was nut or, more charitably, he did learn, aw nuts as all-too-appropriate alternative monikers.

speaking of professor sutherland’s critics, i couldn’t do much with social control theory’s travis hirschi (stir a rich shiv or chris ravish it) or anomie’s robert k. merton (torment broker and broken term rot are a little better). i had better luck with howard s. becker, who wrote a classic on marijuana use (saw herb rocked or sacred herb wok) and offered insightful critiques of mainstream sociology (bored whackers).

this week my students are reading meda chesney-lind on feminist criminology and juvenile Justice, so her new moniker (she demand nicely) might seem fitting. i couldn’t work the “q” into james q. wilson, but the brilliant conservative who wrote thinking about crime can otherwise be cruelly rearranged as jowls is mean.

ok, that’s where i draw the line. in fairness, i should also note that christopher uggen can be cruelly rearranged as pure hogs retching. though my personal anagrams can’t rival, say, mr. mojo risin’, i guess i’d prefer hog-sprung heretic to pure hogs retching.