December 20, 2018

Students get immersed in local corrections

Nate Knudson (far right), the warden of Minnesota’s Moose Lake and Willow River correctional institutions, stands with a group of UW-Superior legal studies and criminal justice majors on the prison’s front steps after hosting a tour of the medium-security facility.

Nate Knudson (far right), the warden of Minnesota’s Moose Lake and Willow River correctional institutions, stands with a group of UW-Superior legal studies and criminal justice majors on the prison’s front steps after hosting a tour of the medium-security facility.

Allison Willingham, assistant professor of legal studies and criminal justice, knew she faced significant challenges teaching students about the realities of working in corrections

When Allison Willingham, assistant professor of legal studies and criminal justice, joined the UW-Superior faculty as a member of the Human Behavior, Justice, and Diversity Department, she knew she faced significant challenges teaching students about the realities of working in corrections.
    
The American correctional system consists of jails, prisons, probation, parole, restorative justice programs, and community-based corrections.

 

Willow River correctional facility 

“I could have just stood in front of my class and lectured every day about correctional programming, but I realized that would not really teach them what it is like to work in the American prison system or any other correctional institutions,” explained Willingham.
    
Her solution was to fully immerse students who were enrolled in CJUS316 Crime, Corrections, and Punishment, into local correctional facilities and programs. Willingham recruited an array of guest speakers to visit campus and speak to the students about their careers in corrections, including:

  • Jared Hendler, Treatment Court Coordinator, Duluth Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court

  • Dan Bartlett, Duluth Area Supervisor, Probation and Parole, Arrowhead Regional Corrections
  • Phill Greer, Superintendent, Northeast Regional Corrections Center
  • Becky Pogatchnik, Superintendent, Arrowhead Juvenile Center
  • Jess McCarthy and Ashley Lovold, Career and Reentry Specialists, SOAR Career Solutions

“These guest speakers were able to provide insight, knowledge, and real-world anecdotes that were invaluable to the students’ learning,” noted Willingham.  

Additionally, Willingham organized a series of field trips for Legal Studies & Criminal Justice Students, which included tours of:

  • Moose Lake prison in Moose Lake, Minn.

  • Willow River Correctional Facility in Willow River, Minn.
  • Northeast Regional Corrections Center in Saginaw, Minn.
  • Arrowhead Juvenile Detention Center in Duluth, Minn.
  • Gordon Correctional Center in Gordon, Wis.

At midterm, Willingham gave her CJUS316 students an informal survey to gauge how the students felt about her immersive approach to teaching. Legal studies and criminal justice major Edriana Dennard analyzed the survey results.  

“The benefits that the students gained provided insight on expectations for working in the field of corrections and how correctional institutions run. Students are now aware of how many compassionate alternatives to incarceration our communities offer,” reported Dennard. 

According to Dennard, the survey also reflected that students enjoyed the “benefit of hearing first-hand from people who are in the corrections field [about] what to expect, meeting people in the field, seeing the focus on rehabilitation … seeing what prisons are really like and the inmate programs, and listening to how the prisoners are treated.”

According to Dennard’s analysis, over half of the students responded on the survey that they had already kept in contact with guest speakers or planned to reach out to the guest speakers to inquire about job shadowing and internship opportunities. Over a third of the students answered they learned more from touring correctional facilities than they did from the course textbook, and over a quarter of the students felt they gained more insight from guest speakers than the course textbook.

“I am thrilled with how CJUS316 went this semester,” said Willingham.  “I have had multiple students come to my office and say, ‘This class has completely changed how I thought about the criminal justice system.’ I feel so fortunate that they were able to meet so many different community professionals and see such a variety of correctional institutions this semester.  There is no book, video, or lecture that could replicate the value of actually walking the hallways of a prison and talking to correctional officers about their careers.”

One unexpected benefit of her unorthodox teaching methods, Willingham explained, was building relationships with many Lake Superior organizations.  

“Not only do many of these guest speakers and correctional facilities have internship and employment opportunities for our students, but they have provided me with suggestions for improving Corrections curriculum,” said Willingham. “For example, Becky Pogatchnik, the superintendent of Arrowhead Juvenile Center, has told me about several skillsets, such as motivational interviewing, that she would like to see job applicants acquire during their undergraduate education. This type of teaching approach is directly preparing LSTU/CJUS students for their careers. Our program is so grateful for these community partners who have worked with me this semester.”

Nate Knudson (far right), the warden of Minnesota’s Moose Lake and Willow River correctional institutions, stands with a group of UW-Superior legal studies and criminal justice majors on the prison’s front steps after hosting a tour of the medium-security facility.

Nate Knudson (far right), the warden of Minnesota’s Moose Lake and Willow River correctional institutions, stands with a group of UW-Superior legal studies and criminal justice majors on the prison’s front steps after hosting a tour of the medium-security facility.

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