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Saint Paul College A Community & Technical College

Criminal Justice Class gets Unlocked
David McDonald

Unlocked Book CoverThe Saint Paul College Introduction to Criminal Justice class recently unlocked prison expertise from Ireland as David McDonald made a special guest Zoom appearance. David McDonald worked 30 years in an Irish prison and wrote the book Unlocked in June 2022, becoming a #1 seller in Ireland and a big seller in England. This unique class arrangement was set up by Instructor Jolene Sundlie, who also invited colleagues from her involvement in the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Classes from two other US community colleges were able to attend, Lewis & Clark Community College out of Illinois and Northeast Community College out of Nebraska.

David provided students with critical insights into life inside an Ireland jail, including many jaw-dropping and authentic accounts of life in one of the most demanding workplaces. He discussed the intense struggles associated with loneliness felt by both prisoners and their families. Students heard how the US and Europe are very different as the US has 20% of the world’s prison population at a time when Norway, Finland, and Holland have all closed 20+ prisons in just the past few years. He pointed out that the rehabilitation of convicts through our prison system has a low success rate compared to treatment centers that often offer higher rehabilitation success at a much lower cost. He encouraged students to “see what happens to people after the courts, not just during the jury process, as we need to view the aftermath with convicts and their families before assessing what is best for society.” David provided some sobering statistics, such as the US spends over $80B annually in prison costs, the US incarcerates over two million citizens per year, and US prison sentences are longer than most other countries.

By chance, Instructor Jolene Sundlie met David and his wife, Valerie, when they vacationed in the same building in Croatia in 2021. She quickly grew an appreciation for his perspectives on challenging social and justice issues, including his whistleblowing on practices that he deemed were inhumane or unethical. Introduction to Criminal Justice is a class within the Sociology Department that offers students opportunities to pursue a Liberal Arts AA degree and find work in social work, corrections, juvenile justice, peace officers, etc. Other students begin a Criminal Justice Transfer Pathway here and then transfer elsewhere for a 4- year degree.

Students are still talking about the stories from this class two months later. Student Melissa Tapia recently shared the following:

Big kudos to Ms. Jolene for making this Zoom meeting possible. This class has caused me to reflect further on my career interest in serving as a correctional officer in the penal system. This presentation has inspired me to think hard about what is best for society and where I can fit in. What a great education to help prepare me for the workplace!
Melissa Tapia
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