Beyond Scared Straight? Not quite! Professor Fields and CRJU 3332 Students Toured Jails and Prisons for a Taste of Reality

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 15, 2024) — “Corrections is arguably the least understood discipline within criminal justice,” exclaimed Professor Fields on day one of the semester back in January. “But I have news for you; I’m taking you all to jail!” That comment invoked suspicion, wonder, amazement and confusion. To clarify, Professor Fields was not reverting back to his earlier positions in law enforcement and probation. Instead, he set the tone for what the semester was going to be like. “I often tell students from the beginning, corrections is the one discipline within the criminal justice system that I have never worked in; however, what better way to bring to life what we learn about in class than by visiting correctional institutions.

Cobb County Adult Detention Center
Cobb County Adult Detention Center
So, for 5 separate occasions during March and April, Professor Fields and all 40 students in his class (including students who went on both tours) attended the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office Adult Detention Center and Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility Prison to gain firsthand experience of what jail and prison is really like. In Cobb County, the tours were led by Major Stacey Bains and Captain Amie Garrett. There was great enthusiasm from Captain Garrett in leading the tours because she is an alumnus of Kennesaw State University and majored in criminal justice. Students were able to see booking and classification, visitation rooms, and the compliance dorms. According to Major Bains, “we treat all inmates with respect because not only is this someone’s family member, but we want to treat them how we want to be treated.” 

Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility Prison
Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility Prison
Over at Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility, Warden Dills, Assistant Deputy Warden Frazier, and Ms. Sweatman (Counselor) greeted us and provided a thorough presentation on what this prison offers and why it is so unique not only here in Georgia, but all over the world. “Our recidivism rate at this prison is only 5%,” explained Warden Dills. To put that number into perspective, the recidivism rate for all other prisons within the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) is nearly 50%. He went on to state, “part of our success is that we don’t call the residents inmates. They are referred to as returning citizens.” The focus on community collaboration, partnerships, rehabilitation and reintegration is a core tenant of the prison facility and is something that Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility is very proud of. 

A few students took time to highlight their experience and takeaway from attending these tours: 

“I attended both tours offered to us this semester and visiting both the Cobb County Jail and the Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility has completely changed my thoughts and opinions on being incarcerated and how the prison/jail systems work. Before taking this course and touring the jails, I believed that jail was just you are sitting behind bars in a cell with no lights with one cellmate. You came out every once and a while for your state mandated classes and for food and that is it. I also assumed inmates would fight constantly and just shank each other for no reason. My tour and this course have changed this opinion drastically.” -L.B.

“My jail tour experience was amazing. Being a criminal justice major we learn about so much through lectures but this tour put us in the action of being a CJ major. This tour showed me what it meant to be a criminal justice major. It showed me that these are staff members working in the jail and real inmates in the jail. In the end, we saw Young Thug who just put the icing on top of the cake! Thank you so much Professor Fields for taking us on this tour. This tour brought a spark out of me it made me excited to work in the criminal justice field!” -Z.C.

“I was nervous and anxious about touring the jail, just because it was something I had never done before and of course all of the things you see on TV can make you think of the absolute worst of places like that. The TV doesn’t do it any justice, if anything, it’s better in person. Overall, the experience was great for me! I am glad I got a chance to experience this in real time and get to see what really happens. You know, this opportunity doesn’t really come around to everyone, so I'm thankful for Professor Fields that he gave us a chance to witness this. It gave me a lot of motivation in terms of my career and eventually gave me an internship opportunity and possibly a job opportunity. This was a meaningful experience for me because my grandfather was a Cobb County police officer, so I’m following in his footsteps in terms of working for Cobb.” -A.F.

“I went to visit the Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility and I loved getting to experience this facility. I will say I was nervous when they told us that prisoners were actually doing our tour, but listening to them speak I was shocked. They spoke very professionally and were extremely nice average guys; I didn’t expect one of them to be convicted for murder. They’re held to high standards and trusted to behave. The Metro Atlanta Reentry Facility’s focus on rehabilitation like educating the inmates on job training, counseling, and even substance abuse treatment plays a large role in their achievements. I think more places like this will change the correctional system’s future. Focusing on reintegration into society rather than punishment is far more beneficial for the inmate’s mentality and overall incarceration rates.” -K.H.

“At the beginning of the semester, when we were informed as a class that we were to participate in field trips to the Cobb County Jail and Atlanta Prison, it was a wonderful surprise! There have not been many opportunities in class, if at all, that we were able to go out into the world and witness a part of the criminal justice system firsthand. Throughout our university career, we read many chapters and PowerPoint presentations on the different aspects and phases of the criminal justice system, but never actually ventured to see these phases in action, until this class. The experience was extremely eye opening; I had been on a jail tour before of Bartow County Jail, but seeing a large county jail like Cobb, was a game changer for sure!” -G.W.

“As a woman who intends to pursue a career in criminal justice, it was inspiring to hear from Major Bains and Captain Garrett, both esteemed female leaders in their field. The information they communicated during the tour offered insight into the inner-workings of the Cobb County Jail and contributed to my understanding of how correctional facilities operate. Throughout the tour, I found myself linking course material with real-life scenarios, which bettered my understanding of concepts discussed in our lectures and further reinforced them in my memory.  During our tour at the Cobb County Jail, we were surrounded by piercing stares and unsettling glances from the incarcerated population. It required some effort to see them as individuals, grappling with fear, confusion, and uncertainty, rather than as intimidating criminals. After the tour, I thought to myself how I would have appreciated the opportunity to interact with an inmate at this facility to ask questions, rather than feeling like an observer peering into a fishbowl. I was unaware that soon, upon my visit to the Metro Reentry Facility, interactions with mentors and returning citizens during our tour would compensate for this. Upon entering the Metro Reentry Facility, my attention was immediately drawn to the vibrant art that decorated every wall. We learned that these intricate and lifelike murals depicting scenes from Atlanta were painted to create a sense of familiarity and comfort within returning citizens. Meeting the two incarcerated men responsible for these remarkable works left me in awe, yet also stirred a twinge of sadness within me. It was difficult to reconcile the fact that individuals with such immense talent and potential found themselves confined behind bars.” -E.S.

Professor Fields and CRJU 3332 Students