UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State Law third-year student Ashley Clasen’s father is a teacher, and growing up, she always made her younger sisters play school with her. So it felt natural when she spent time this past summer teaching an Introduction to U.S. Law class in Mongolia. Through that experience, she heard of another opportunity to teach the law, which to her was another way to master the legal material she was studying every day.
Clasen, who is currently pursuing a joint J.D. and M.I.A. degree at Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, is part of the Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) at Penn State. RJI is a program run by the College of Education that is committed to restoring and empowering individuals who are incarcerated through education and meaningful engagement in civic life, and includes Penn State students, faculty, staff, and community groups.
For one and a half hours every week throughout the semester, Clasen teaches a course entitled “Legal Literacy” to a group of incarcerated women at the Centre County Correctional Facility. The first half of the course focused on building a foundation of legal knowledge. They discussed the difference in rankings of court systems, legislation, and vocabulary to make the later course concepts easier to understand. The class has access to an older version of LexisNexis, a program that enables them to do computer-assisted legal research, which Clasen had to learn how to navigate herself.
To Clasen, the most valuable aspect of the experience with RJI has been the new perspective she has gained on people in correctional facilities, and how programs like this can reduce recidivism and help participants to become productive members of society when they are released.
While the current Legal Literacy course will end this semester, Clasen is looking forward to returning to teach a new group of women in the spring. Now that she has seen how the program works, she is excited by the opportunities it presents for expansion, and she is proud to be a part of it.
“I’m not sure where my career will go, but I do know that I want to use my education for the benefit of my community, not just myself,” she said. “This program has reinforced that I want to be doing something in my community, whether that’s local or wider range.”
Students interested in getting involved with RJI should contact the Director of the Restorative Justice Initiative, Efrain Marimon, at firstname.lastname@example.org.