Understanding how jails, prisons, probation, and parole systems function and how policy decisions affect the people incarcerated is the focus of assistant professor Alexandra Nur’s class, The Correctional Institution (CRJ 425).
The criminal justice undergraduate course looks at the successes and failures of America’s correctional facilities and how the experiences of prisoners inside the facilities will impact their success and lives after life in prison.
“Though the rate of contact with correctional institutions is decreasing in the U.S, institutions like jails, prisons, probation, and parole still impact a great many people. Understanding what works to help people after release, and what has not worked in the past, can help a great many more people remain in the community without further contact with these institutions,” said Nur.
This in-person class isn’t required for criminal justice majors, and non-criminal justice majors are welcome to enroll in the class after completing the prerequisites of CRJ 104 and CRJ 301.
“I believe it is important for students to take this course to better understand what each of these criminal justice institutions is responsible for and how things like local and state policies regarding change to these institutions impact the lives of people who live and work within these institutions,” said Nur.
Below, Nur explained the class structure and how this class prepares students for a wide variety of careers.
How is this course relevant to society today?
We live in a time when crime is one of the main issues on the minds of the public and the leaders of our government. We get bombarded with media that tells us why it is good and bad to think certain ways about our correctional institutions and the people within them. My hope is that students in my class leave with a way to think more critically about the things they see and hear in the news so that they do not have to rely on the resources of others to understand how these institutions operate and why they have been successful or unsuccessful in the past.
What type of career does this criminal justice class prepare students for?
Directly, students who want to work in correctional institutions or in the community under probation and parole services will have a better understanding of how all of these institutions are interconnected. Students who want to go on to work in fields like social work, foster care, or even mental health services will also benefit, as these vulnerable populations are disproportionately likely to experience contact with correctional institutions during their lifetime. Understanding the lasting effects of these institutions is thus important even for folks who will not go on to work in them directly.
What excites you the most about teaching The Correctional Institution course?
I am always excited to hear the many opinions that students have about the state of our prisons and jails, and whether there are things we can do to help those who work and live in these systems. I always tell students, “Your opinion does not have to be my opinion.” And that is very true to me.
Progress for our correctional institutions does not come from everyone having the same opinion or perspective. I am excited to see how the next generation of voters and practitioners is thinking.
What students might be surprised to learn?
Students are often surprised when we discuss the scope of activities and programs that incarcerated persons take part in while incarcerated. A topic that always promotes lively discussion is incarcerated workers, who do things like maintain the correctional facilities they live in, produce products for companies like Nike and McDonalds, and even fight fires here in Nevada and California. Students are sometimes surprised to learn that these workers make less than 30 cents per hour in most states, even for those who do dangerous and specialized work.
How is the class structured?
The reading list of the semester is a combination of podcasts, news articles, and some academic articles. The focus of assigned readings and podcasts are to present concepts in action. Many of these readings feature people who have themselves been incarcerated, worked in these institutions, or have been victimized or affected by these institutions in numerous ways. I want students to hear it from people who have lived these experiences.