Class Behind Bars: Spring Course Taught in Jail


News 12 Westchester

Inmates apart of the “Parenting, Prison and Pups” program

Alexis Nieman, Media Editor

Next semester, students will have the opportunity to go to class in jail. The class, taught by Dr. Kimberly Collica-Cox, is CRJ-242: “Crime and Public Policy”. It will be offered as a writing enhanced course. It will be taught at Westchester County Jail in Valhalla, about five miles from campus. 

Collica-Cox has 20 years of experience in corrections. She worked as the HIV and AIDS program coordinator at a women’s prison, and as the supervisor of transitional services unit at Westchester County Jail. 

The course is what is called an “inside-out program”, where outsiders are allowed in to mingle with the inmates. Students will be able to learn about crime with people who have committed crimes, and they will have the opportunity to help inmates with the coursework, including papers and homework. A free shuttle will be provided from the Pleasantville campus to the jail and back. Because it is a new course, there are only twelve spots being offered for the Spring. 

Collica-Cox believes this course will help students see what life working and living behind bars is really like. 

“I think it will debunk a lot of misconceptions that the public often has about corrections, including negative perceptions they may have about what it’s like to live behind bars and about those who work behind bars,” Collica-Cox said. “I think that once they go there they’re going to see it’s a very different environment from what they anticipated.”

In the future, the course could be offered as a civic engagement course, with students working as tutors for inmates. 

In addition to CRJ-242, Collica-Cox also teaches CRJ-331, “Strategies in Corrections Administration”, which is apart of the program, “Parenting, Prison and Pups”, and is a civic engagement that is offered on the Pleasantville campus in the Fall and the New York City campus in the Spring. Students earn their service hours in jail by serving as teaching assistants to Collica-Cox in a female parenting course that is integrated with animal-assisted therapy.  

Although there is a waitlist for this course at the New York City campus, only six students are currently enrolled in the course at Pleasantville. Collica-Cox is hoping to get the word out to students about this course in the future. 

“Students get an experience that can go on their resumes,” Collica-Cox said. “It’s very difficult for them to get experience working with inmates because it’s a liability issue. A lot of students, by the end of the semester, are complaining that they wish they were able to sign up for more classes. And a lot of them said they would now consider working in corrections, where before most of them would never have considered it. After they’ve gone in and they see what it’s really about they change their perspective even in what they would be willing to consider for career options.”

The Spring course, CRJ-242, is open to all majors who wish to learn more about crime and life in prison. 

“The inmates love having the students there, it makes them feel so good that outsiders are really interested in what they’re doing, and a lot of the students remind them of their own children,” Collica-Cox said.

For more information about CRJ-242 or CRJ-331, please contact [email protected].