Radford University students learn criminology theory alongside inmates

Published: Oct. 10, 2018 at 5:57 PM EDT
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Class is in session. Professor Egan Green writes on the whiteboard and Radford University students take their seats.

Then the rest of the students join the class.

"I'm teaching this class on criminological theory, case studies in criminological theories, at the New River Valley Regional jail." Green said.

Here, inmates mingle with the students from Radford and talk about what they're learning in class.

"It's just like you and me talking," RU student Hanan Ouchene said. "They talk about these theories more than we do. They know more than we do sometimes."

However, the theories have a different impact on the inmates.

"If it wasn't for this class, I'd probably still be that criminal who thinks, 'I did nothing wrong,'" Amanda Thomas, one of the student inmates, said. "I'm really grateful for this class. I really am."

For others it even strikes an emotional cord.

"This program has opened my eye to the fact that I'm not alone and I'm not a bad person and I'm grateful for that," inmate Joy Lawrence said with tears in her eyes.

"I know right from wrong," she added. "I've made some mistakes, but I've learned through this class, and trying to rehabilitate myself, that I don't have to be a product of my mistakes."

The New River Valley Regional Jail superintendent, Gregory Winston, says the benefits of the class reach beyond the classroom walls.

"Providing programs reduces frustration among the prisoners, tension among the prisoners,and reduces boredom among the prisoners," he said. "When that happens, it improves safety for the staff, improves their work experience, and reduces their stress as well."

For the Radford students, they learn to break stereotypes.

"Learning that there's other things that go into the reasons why they did it, it makes me look at it from a different point, to empathize more with them," Bria Headen said.

Both the Radford University students and the inmates described this class as life changing and a changed life is exactly what they all hope to have when they leave these walls.

The superintendent said he plans to bring classes to the jail for the foreseeable future.