New course explores what's next for restorative justice, racial reckoning

December 3, 2020
A man standing in front of a watchtower outside of a prison - banner image from
A photo of a person standing in front of a watchtower outside of a prison

In the wake of global demonstrations and calls for racial justice, Seattle University School of Law has added a new one-week course during the winter intersession that will help students imagine a restorative, rather than punitive, justice system.

The course will use the film, "The Prison Within," co-written and produced by alumna Erin Kenway '08, as a framework for understanding the profound failures of the current criminal justice system, which relies on punishment and retribution rather than healing.

Kenway will co-teach the course with Associate Professor of Law Deirdre Bowen. The interdisciplinary one-credit course - "Pathways to Justice: A Critical Policy Analysis of Possibilities" - is open to law students and graduate students from any accredited university. It will be delivered online Jan. 4 - 8.

Deirdre Bowen
Deirdre Bowen

"What we want to do with this course is to look at the question of what comes next," Bowen said. "The country is crying out for reform and, as a law school committed to racial justice, we want to help students envision and build new, more equitable systems."

As a documentary, "The Prison Within" offers a powerful and thoughtful alternative to current systems of justice. Through the crushing stories of survivors of violent crimes and men incarcerated for murder, viewers witness redemption and healing inside California's San Quentin prison.

The film goes beyond why and how the system is inadequate and deftly exposes the experiences of people on both sides of prison walls. It tells personal stories that illustrate the systemic injustices that perpetuate cycles of violence and trauma, and lays a path to heal and reconcile notions of justice.

Erin Kenway
Erin Kenway

"In this time of deep reflection and calls for systemic justice reform, this film shatters the 'us versus them' tropes within the criminal justice system and our communities," Kenway said. (Read more about Kenway on the Seattle U Alumni blog.)

"The Prison Within" premiered at the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival in January, winning the Social Justice Award for Documentary Film. It also received the award for best documentary at the 2020 Coronado Island Film Festival. It received high praise in The Guardian and Forbes.

In creating the film, its makers aimed to advance the dialogue about shared responsibility to collectively heal the country's mass incarceration crisis; and to spur community justice reform that breaks the cycle of recidivism and the criminalization of marginalized communities.

The course will explore the following questions: What is public safety and for whom? What is the role of legal intervention in addressing harm? What exactly does trauma mean? What are the social benefits of considering alternative models of criminal justice? What are the consequences?

The course will include guest speakers associated with the film, case studies, small group activities, and practical skill-building.

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