College instructor mum about prison tour for students to protect future access

2012-10-24T04:01:00Z 2012-11-26T14:04:44Z College instructor mum about prison tour for students to protect future accessBy KURT ERICKSON - H&R Springfield Bureau Chief Herald-Review.com

SPRINGFIELD — A Heartland Community College professor isn’t talking about a recent tour of the Pontiac Correctional Center by her students because she is concerned state prison administrators will bar her from future prison visits.

The decision by Jennifer Bursell, an adjunct professor of criminal justice at the community college in Normal, comes two months after the Quinn administration decided to ban reporters from touring prisons, claiming it is a “security risk.”

It remains unclear why a tour of a prison is a risk if reporters are involved, but not when college students are involved.

The governor, who has said government transparency is a priority, issued his closed-door edict in August after top prison brass turned down requests by reporters to confirm allegations of horrendous living conditions within Illinois’ overcrowded system.

“I know that the media is not allowed access anymore, but colleges and universities are, so I do not want to do anything to jeopardize that experience for students,” Bursell said in an email to the H&R Springfield Bureau on Tuesday. “I respectfully decline speaking with anyone from the media about this.”

The governor’s policy comes after years of the prisons being occasionally opened for tours by the media.

But that was before Quinn ended a controversial early prisoner release program that was dogging his 2010 campaign for governor. That decision triggered an inmate population explosion, resulting in about 48,000 inmates being housed in a system built for about 33,000 prisoners.

The overcrowding could worsen if Quinn is successful in closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight. Those closures currently are on hold because of a legal challenge by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

The department confirmed Tuesday that a class of 25 students from Heartland toured Pontiac on Friday but offered no details about the visit or about whether other classes are scheduled for tours.

Bursell, who teaches a class called “American System of Corrections,” also was tightlipped about the situation

“I am not trying to get involved in the political side of this, I am just going to continue what I have been doing for years and if they cut off that access it will not be because of me,” she wrote.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|782-4043

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