UO Students Study Juvenile Justice with OSCI Classmates

From the Inside: Mark, inside TA

I expected this class to be eye opening regarding the juvenile justice system, but did not expect the amount of deep reflection the class provoked,” said Kaylin*, a University of Oregon (UO) student, after attending one of her classes with prisoners at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI). “My classmates, both inside and out, have taught me so much more than what was listed on the syllabus.”

Since 1997, more than 100 colleges and universities participating in the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program have offered classes to more than 30,000 students and prisoners in 150 prisons and jails throughout America and ten other countries. The UO began offering IO classes through the Clark Honors College in 2007.

UO Professor Kevin Alltucker’s recent ten-week juvenile justice class was the 50thUO class taught inside an Oregon prison. Alltucker and 14 UO students traveled to OSCI for class with 14 prisoners each Wednesday evening.

“Colleagues often ask, ‘Why teach inside prison?’” said Alltucker. “My answer is clear, and based on fundamental principles of the Inside-Out program: ‘the goal is to empower those who are part of our criminal justice system – those incarcerated and those working in it – to find ways to build a safer and more just society for all.’”

The course explored the evolution of the juvenile court and the social, political, and economic forces that have shaped the policy landscape during the past century. Students examined the outcomes and costs of the dramatic pendulum swings between rehabilitation and punishment.

“I have learned a great deal in this class and throughout the term,” said Jake, a UO student and local politician. “My thinking on juvenile justice issues has been challenged and clarified, as well as that on broader concerns about the criminal justice system as a whole.”

Students were treated to two special guest visits during the class. World-renowned developmental psychological and youth violence expert, Dr. James Garbarino traveled from Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, to teach the class one evening before appearing on the UO campus the next day. Senator Michael Dembrow, who is a member of a Juvenile Justice Reform Legislative Workgroup, also visited the class graduation ceremony.

Like every IO class, professor Alltucker’s class profoundly impacted prisoners and students alike. “I don’t mean to sound cliché, but this class was truly life-changing,” said Mark, an OSCI prisoner. “To restate an undeniable truth, ‘rehabilitation happens in the context of relationship.’ What we’ve done together has been tremendously valuable to me.” UO student McKenna echoed that sentiment: “I was incredibly nervous to step outside of my comfort zone, but boy am I glad I did …. This class has fundamentally changed who I am as a person and where I see myself going in the future.”

From the Outside: Cali, class TA

For me, education about curiosity and discovery. It is about encountering challenges, and finding the tools to face them. It demands that we listen to an abundance of voices, allowing these perspectives to interact with our own. It is about reflection and action, taking what we have learned and using this knowledge to build a better world together. Most importantly, education is a continuous journey, with learning opportunities present at every step along the way. 

This past spring, myself and 26 other remarkable individuals came together in a powerful learning experience. Led by Professor Kevin Alltucker, the Inside Out class “Tough on Crime or Smart on Crime?” brought together students from the University of Oregon campus and Oregon State Correctional Institution to examine the United States’ juvenile justice system. Our studies focused on the social, political, economic, and racial forces that have shaped juvenile justice policy. We explored the system in its past and present iterations, as well as looked ahead to the possibilities for positive reform in the future. 

This class provided many remarkable opportunities to both inside and outside students. We had the pleasure of hosting renowned scholar Dr. James Garbarino as a guest speaker and participant in one of our classes, discussing his research on child development as it relates to trauma, violence, and rehabilitation. Another guest to the class included Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow, a member of the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee. This committee is currently working on possible reforms to Oregon’s juvenile justice system, creating a unique and powerful moment for us to share our own learning and experiences with him. 

I am deeply thankful for my opportunity to have been the TA for this class. I was continually struck by the wisdom shared by my fellow students. The depth of knowledge, experience, and empathy that came together in that classroom created a community centered on understanding each other, on building each other up as an integral piece of creating lasting social change. As one inside student summarized it at the end of the term, this class allowed us to put our learning into action -- which is what a true education is all about.