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The e-newsletter of Chestnut Hill College

Bearing Witness to the Constitution

Bearing Witness to the Constitution

Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney John Delaney speaks with CHC students.

Over winter break, 10 students witnessed textbook lessons in action as part of a class on the U.S. Constitution and criminal justice system.

Along with lectures given by Lauren Barrow, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice, the students visited Philadelphia’s Constitution Center, Eastern State Penitentiary, the new police training facility and Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. They also sat in on a murder trial and met with a prosecutor and defense attorney.

In this era, when social media often provides students with what passes as news, Barrow wanted to offer her students an experience that would get past the noise and inform them of their rights as Americans while teaching them how the police, corrections and the courts all function as one system — a reality that isn’t often seen.

The week started out with an eye-opening exercise as the students discovered they knew much less about the U.S. Constitution than they may have thought. When visiting the Constitution Center, they compared their quizzes to the truth and changed more than 50 percent of their answers — an illuminating way to find out how much they didn’t know.

By day four, after studying the Sixth Amendment, which offers citizens general trial rights, the students were ready to attend part of a murder trial, where they watched intrigued as an obstinate witness grudgingly give testimony, heard an expert testify and learned how the “courtroom work group” — the prosecution, defense and judge — operates.

And then, on Friday, something happened that still has Barrow shaking her head in awe. In the morning, the class visited Eastern State Penitentiary, the country’s first prison, and a model of what our forefathers wanted punishment to be, in terms of humane punishment that restored the soul. Later that day, they traveled to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, to learn about current punishment practices. While waiting in the sallyport (the prison’s secure, controlled entrance), the students watched, captivated, as the accused man from Thursday’s trial returned to the institution.

“They saw him, and a hum of excited recognition rippled through the group. What are the odds this would happen? From an academic standpoint, these students saw these systems intertwined and interconnected over the period of one week — and then this,” she says.

“I received emails from students for weeks after this class ended about how their experience impacted them,” says Barrow. “They made connections between what they saw and heard and some had to let go of old ways of thinking about the system. This lived experience did what I wanted it to do and so much more.”

— Brenda Lange

Condensed from the spring 2016 issue of the Chestnut Hill magazine. Read the full story here.