On December 6, students in Dr. Lisa Tillmann’s Incarceration and Inequality course presented fact-based presentations with law officials, including Orlando Chief of Police John Mina, Winter Park Chief of Police Michael Deal, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, and Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla.
The students reviewed statistics on pressing matters related to incarceration and proposed solutions to those issues. Groups presented facts related to five issues: treatment of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, discrimination against ex-convicts, police prejudice and militarization of police, mass incarceration and the war on drugs, and women in the criminal justice system.
Dr. Tillmann, professor of critical media and cultural studies, began the discussion with a rather salient statistic on incarceration: “The average cost of incarcerating one person for one year is more than $31,000, more than three times the average cost of in-state tuition at a public university.” She continued, “Today, 13 students advocate for policy changes. They advocate to each of us as fellow citizens, and they advocate to public servants and policymakers, who have generously come to listen to where their research has taken them and to support their civic engagement. Most of them have never done anything like this before, and I will confess to all of you, I had never done anything like this as an undergraduate student.”
To prepare for the presentation and advocacy work, each student in the class compiled approximately 300 pages of reputable and scholarly research on their topics and used the information to create a fact-based set of rationales for their proposed policy changes. One group advocated for banishing the check box on job applications that signals to an employer the applicant’s history of a criminal conviction. Instead, questions about conviction would be saved until after the initial interview in order to prevent immediate discrimination by employers.
“If someone is given the label ‘criminal,’ we immediately think of them differently,” says Josh Seraballs ’19. Job training and the outcome of having a job have been shown to lower recidivism rates. Another group focused on women in the police force, advocating for more female officers, as they are less likely than their male counterparts to be involved in police brutality lawsuits and may more often practice defensive policing. Including more female police officers also breaks up the boys club attitude of the police force and may make for better officers.
Reactions to the presentations were overwhelmingly positive among students, audience members, policymakers, and Rollins staff. President Grant Cornwell stated, “You have my respect and gratitude for the event yesterday. ... Please extend my praise to the students for their sound research and polished presentations.”
Students expressed their gratitude in and out of the classroom for having the opportunity to be advocates. “It’s really important for us all to be activists and to take that first step in learning about race and learning about the criminal justice system and how it influences our life. I felt like this class was really beneficial to me,” says Jazlyn Gallego ’18.
The presentations offered students profound insight into activism and advocacy, and opportunities like these truly align with the College’s mission statement to create global citizens and responsible leaders.