Portland State University students explore “why prisons?”

EMO’s Communities of Support and Accountability (CoSA) is excited to serve once again as the community partner for a senior capstone class at Portland State University (PSU), under the professorship of Dr. DeEtte Beghtol Waleed. Through a series of presentations and conversations with the seniors in her class, we will guide the students toward creating a final project. As the students learn about the U.S. criminal justice system, they will be creating a resource to share with the rest of the community.

This year, EMO’s Audrey deCoursey is grateful to be joined by Aron Klein of Partnership for Safety & Justice, a strong partner advocating for the end of mass incarceration and its detrimental impacts on society.

We are especially excited about the topic they will be taking on this fall. We are exploring the justice system and mass incarceration in the United States through a rather provocative question: What are prisons good for?

Pondering this question requires sorting through both philosophical and practical questions. Why do we have prisons? Do they “work” to achieve the outcomes we as a society expect of them?

The toll incarceration takes on human lives is great, though it is harder to assess than the staggering costs of incarceration on state budgets. Prisons are costly as well as harmful. And yet mass incarceration continues. Does this mean that we as a society have decided that these costs are “worth it” for the goals we expect prisons to achieve?

Or do we simple ignore the costs of incarceration – the burden carried by certain communities and certain members of our society? Do we need to start asking some seemingly simple questions about our society’s ethics and values, in order to dismantle the complex system that parcels out justice and mercy in our name?

In previous years of this partnership with Dr. Waleed, PSU seniors have completed some amazing projects: promotional posters, a social media campaign, a video about the experience of children of the incarcerated, videos about the racism in the U.S. justice system, and a video interviewing volunteers for our Circles of Support & Accountability (while it was still operating). Some of these videos are available online on youtube: Mass Incarceration: A Look at Race in Oregon’s Prison System, and Are We Too Violent: False Imprisonment. The students’ work is a valuable contribution to our resources for community engagement.

We look forward to this partnership again this year, and to seeing what the students will create!

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