Riley Institute and OLLI Talk Crime and Punishment

By: Jake Crouse, Copy Editor

This summer, Furman joined the nationwide cry for criminal justice reform through the Straight Talk S.C. Crime and Punishment Summer Series.

The four part series, sponsored by the Riley Institute and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), probed current political and social commentary on criminal justice issues including mass incarceration, law enforcement, mental illness, and judicial courts and rulings. The conversation series also paid close attention to issues inundating the conversation of the American electorate around election time, topics including policing, the war on drugs, and prisons for profit.

The program brought in speakers from an array of professional fields, ranging from presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to police officers, academics, rehabilitation workers, and former criminals. Prominent presenters included S.C. Senator Gerald Malloy, S.C. House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, and U.S. Attorney Bill Nettle.

The summer series program through the Riley Institute is in its fifth year. Previous conversations have analyzed education and economic disparities, healthcare reform, and the legacies of the Civil War and Civil Rights.

This series, however, was the first time that President Davis invited the broader Greenville community to join the conversation.

In an op-ed to the Greenville News July 17, Davis stressed the importance of an engaged citizenry in grappling with complex political issues like criminal justice reform. Davis also drew inspiration from our academic community.

“We challenge our undergraduate students and indeed all of those engaged in learning at Furman to ask themselves, ‘How shall I live?’ ” Davis wrote.

Furman students who stuck around for the summer were there to answer her call.  Junior Drew Kern who attended the summer series said the program exceeded his expectations.  He believes that the lectures were so outstanding because the speakers went beyond the statistics and added stories to the equation.

“If you don’t talk about any specific cases or include any anecdotes or personal experience, then it is easy to dehumanize the issue and depersonalize those involved,” Kern said.

Though the stories were helpful, Kern says they were often tough to hear.  Many of the stories shed light on what Kern sees as tough issues with dire consequences.  He remembers one such discussion on mental illness in the prison system.      

“I think the most interesting and also the most terrible thing that I learned was about the gross mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners in South Carolina prisons,” Kern said.

For more information about the series, visit the Riley Institute website.

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