Home > News > Students Visit State Prison For Class

Students Visit State Prison For Class

Sam Colbert ‘17

Staff Writer

Today, incarceration affects more people than ever, yet the realities are virtually unknown to most. A course taught by Dr. Brittnie Aiello at Merrimack College examines these very uncertainties and sheds light on the realities of prisons and jails in terms of daily life, operations, social hierarchies, and social interactions.

Throughout the course, students study both historical and contemporary accounts of life in prison along with having the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of penal facilities by visiting both a prison and a jail during their semester in the CRM3900: Incarceration course.

This past week, a group of Criminology students got their first real-life exposure, visiting MCI (Massachusetts Correctional Institution) Shirley, a prison in Shirley, Massachusetts. Dr. Aiello says that in general, the goal of the trips to the penal facilities is for students to understand “the powerlessness that people experience.” Another goal of the class is to serve as an out-of-class lesson that there are obvious consequences to actions.

Students get to look at all the different aspects of the facilities they visit. They learn about how people in the facilities are processed, the experience people have in incarceration and the students visiting are required to follow a dress code as well; specifically no jeans, no loose articles of clothing or jewelry, and no revealing clothing.

These trips have been a part of Dr. Aiello’s curriculum in teaching this course since the fall semester of 2012. The students that go to visit through the course get a tour of the facilities, cafeteria, gym, and educational unit.

For some students who are especially interested in a future career at a correctional facility, this tip is extremely beneficial to get a good firsthand look at what they plan to have in a future career.

One student described their experience to me, “It was a really eye opening experience. I witnessed some of the inmates and heard their stories about how they got to where they are today. One aspect I found surprising is that they are allowed to wear jeans and just normal street clothes, so I actually couldn’t even tell who was an inmate or who worked there or was just volunteering. It really makes you think that anyone you know could end up in a similar position as these men with just one wrong decision.”