Behind the Scenes By Celise blackman and tierney harvey

In January 2017, 14 students at the University of North Florida set out on a mission to dig deep inside the Florida prison system. The students come from different majors including journalism, political science and advertising. The students aimed to become experts on all aspects of Florida prisons. Their findings were astounding.

The students were organized into a news team of editors and assistants, and each was given a specific topic to research. Several experts in the field of justice reform visited the class to share their knowledge. All of this research was in preparation for a trip to Tallahassee for the Florida Criminal Justice Reform: 2017 and Beyond conference hosted by Deborrah Brodsky and the Florida State University Project on Accountable Justice. Speakers included representatives from various criminal justice reform organizations and institutes. They covered reform bills currently being considered and methods to measure effectiveness and ensure accountability within the criminal justice system.

After the conference, the Rev. Allison DeFoor and Dr. Paula Horvath held a focus group with 10 formerly incarcerated people who served sentences ranging from six months to life in the state of Florida. Over the course of two hours, the group discussed education, inmate and guard relations and recidivism, among other topics. Their various experiences with the Florida Department of Corrections gave them unique perspectives on how the system can be fixed. Students also met face to face with the formerly incarcerated people for individual interviews. They heard about their lives before incarceration and the process of reformation after release.

The voices of these individuals deserve to be heard as they speak for those who cannot. The Florida prison system is flawed, and the class hopes this project will shed some much needed light on the situation.

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