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‘HumIn Focus – Incarceration in America’ features Penn State Law professor

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Gopal Balachandran, assistant professor of clinical law at Penn State Law in University Park, was among several faculty members to be interviewed for 'HumIn Focus – Incarceration in America,' an episode that airs Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. on WPSU-TV as part of an educational web series produced by the Humanities Institute at Penn State.

Balachandran is director of Penn State Law’s externships program and co-director of the school’s Indigent Criminal Justice Practicum (ICJP), for which he oversees the criminal appellate/post-conviction track that enables students to represent indigent defendants at appellate and post-conviction proceedings. ICJP students represent defendants in trial and appellate courts as well as at state prisons.

“As a society we must recognize a person’s capacity to make mistakes but also their capacity for change,” said Balachandran, whose ICJP students have advocated for broader changes in the criminal justice system through the filing of amicus briefs.

“We need to recognize that there are people in prison who are serving more time than is moral, often through sentencing that lacks deterrent value,” he said.

Balachandran was one of several Penn State faculty interviewed for the mass incarceration episode. He added that through the clinical experience in the ICJP, students frequently talk with and meet with clients convicted of serious crimes, which provides them with “a window into their shared humanity,” as they examine factors – like mental illness, addiction, and poverty – that contribute to criminal behavior.  

Through experiential learning like the ICJP, students work on pardon applications for people whose criminal records continue to deny them opportunities with jobs, careers, education, credit, housing, and even volunteerism. Students are currently involved in starting a Pardon Project in Centre County.

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