Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitties Study Penitentiary

Featured Section – February 19th – Page 13

This article originally appeared as part of the Featured Section of the February 19th Print edition. To see how this section looked in print click the image thumbnails below.

The Whitman College Prison Research Group (WCPRG) offers Whitman students, faculty and staff a chance to learn about the correctional facility just 2.2 miles from campus: the Washington State Penitentiary. The Penitentiary houses a wide range of prisoners, including the state’s death row offenders, and has an operating capacity of 1,988.

Of course, the group’s research goals extend beyond the local penitentiary. In the past, the group has toured prisons across the Pacific Northwest and even toured a series of facilities in England.

Steve Rubin, a former Whitman psychology professor, and Keith Farrington, the Peterson Endowed Chair of social sciences, created WCPRG in 1982. Pete Parcells, associate professor of economics, and Mitch Clearfield, a visiting instructor of philosophy and general studies, later joined the group and helped to lead it.

“Steve and I never imagined that the group would still be alive and kicking in 2009,” Farrington said via a phone interview: he’s on sabbatical for the year.

Today, Parcells maintains the Web site and organizes the meetings. Leadership is shared; there are no official titles or roles within the group.

The group holds a monthly lunch meeting on campus. Meetings usually last under an hour and follow a flexible format.

“Sharing information is the format of the meeting,” said Parcells.

The meetings usually draw a mix of penitentiary workers, students or faculty members researching the jail, and other Whitman affiliates interested in learning about the prison system.

Penitentiary personnel in attendance update the group about daily occurrences within the prison. Sometimes members offer information about the criminal justice system on a larger scale.

The meetings are especially valuable for students interested in conducting research at the penitentiary, oftentimes for a thesis.

“It’s nice to have this group as a focal point to share and disseminate that information,” said Parcells. “It enhances the educational mission of Whitman.”

WCPRG also coordinates tours of the Washington State Penitentiary and other local jails.

“It really is a unique opportunity: how many people ever get a chance to actually go and take a look at a prison facility?” said Parcells.

Parcells stressed the accessibility of the group and encouraged anyone interested in the criminal justice system to attend the meetings.

“And hey: free food!” said Parcells. “Come and listen and eat some pizza, [everyone] is always welcome!”

For more information about WCPRG or to subscribe to the listserv, visit wcprg.org. The group’s next meeting will be held at noon on Monday, Mar. 2 in Maxey 142.

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