Law & Order ECS | Bill of Rights and Jail
On the first day of the Law & Order ECS, the group split into two groups. One group went to the El Paso County Jail while the second and group stayed at school and focused on interpreting the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights group asked the question “what determines a right from a privilege from a law?” The class determined that a right is a concrete privilege which every citizen enjoys which can only be taken away in special circumstances. Meanwhile a privilege would be similar to a right except it can be taken away. And lastly a law is a concrete rule that keeps the playing field fair for all citizens. Our study of the Bill of Rights helped us answer our ECS’s essential question: How well does the United States maintain our Constitution and Bill of Rights? As we dove into our study of the Bill of Rights, we began our exploration of the criminal justice system.
As the group that visited the Jail walked through the big metal doors into each ward of the jail, we observed the difference between the rights of those incarcerated and ourselves. We were surprised by the amount of inmates we saw milling around the hallways. We saw several different “trustees” who were lower security inmates, generally those who had committed smaller scale crimes. If found to be extremely well behaved and trustworthy, these inmates can work time off their sentence by cleaning the hallways, helping maintenance services, and working in the laundry room or kitchen. We focused on the rights of those incarcerated based on their behavior. As we asked questions and observed a range of security levels, we saw the different lifestyles of different inmates based on their crime and their behavior.
We timidly followed our tour guide, a Deputy Specialist by the name of Roger Johnson, watching the inmates like children gazing at fish in a fishtank. Within the first ten minutes of our tour, our group of 11 students and 1 teacher began to feel the intensity in the air and realize that jail can be the very dismal and terrifying environment we often see portrayed in the media and entertainment. Yet, we also witnessed the humanity and vulnerability in lots of those inmates. It was only towards the end of our tour when we actually entered a ward that we remembered that these people we were watching were actual human beings, not much different than ourselves. It was startling to imagine all of the crimes these people we saw may have committed, especially when we were told an offense as small as a traffic misdemeanor can result in celltime.
We stood in the “Vet Ward,” and gazed at men going about their lives, most of them playing dominos or card games, listening to music, reading, and many exercising, amazed at the lack of negativity or violence in front of us. Here, probably around 60 men, lived casually in one giant two story open ward with tables, double bunk beds, showers, and other everyday objects like TVs and a jungle gym style exercise machine. I was astonished that these men who had committed crimes, most felonies, had a very different jail experience than those with similar charges who hadn’t served our country before. This sparked the question: should people’s pasts, good or bad, dictate their treatment in the criminal justice system?
Although being in jail and observing criminals is only the start of our dive into the entire criminal justice system, establishing a solid foundation of our knowledge of the Bill of Rights and witnessing first hand the lives of those incarcerated gave us a solid start to our other explorations. Thanks to our experiences today, we can understand the rights of all people in our country, and now be prepared for tomorrow’s experience with The Colorado Springs Police Department and Teen Court.
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