Kenton Times: KHS students debate criminal punishment with help from ONU professor

Kenton High School senior Chris Culwell (center) joins in the discussion during the college credit plus class discussing the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Leading the discussion is Ohio Northern Professor Kevin Cordi (left) and KHS teacher Christina Cross (right). The students joined in role-playing and debate regarding criminal punishment. Times photo/Dan Robinson

Learning about constitutional amendments can be the recipe for glazed over eyes and nodding heads, but Dr. Kevin Cordi’s approach had Kenton High School students eagerly debating criminal punishment and designing prison programs in a lesson on the Eighth Amendment.

KHS teacher Christina Cross said she had invited Cordi to address her college credit plus class after hearing the Ohio Northern University education professor talk at a seminar and asked him to address her students.

As he introduced the students to his teaching methods on Thursday, Cordi asked each student to give themselves permission to “play” as they learned.

“Take risks. Make mistakes,” he challenged.

“Let the stories begin!”

The Eighth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be free from excessive fines or imprisonment and protects them from cruel or unusual punishment for crimes.

He asked the students to come up with situations in which the punishment didn’t match the crime.

Examples were given and some students questioned who was guaranteed justice in America.

Cordi asked, is water boarding acceptable for suspected terrorists?

Is a man spending time in prison in need of dental work entitled to dentures at the expense of taxpayers? Are solitary confinement or lethal injections “cruel and usual punishment?”

The students didn’t all agree with each other and debated the questions openly.

“Why should we pay for it?” asked Jordan Heckathorn regarding the dental needs of the prisoner.

“You are forgetting they are human,” countered Tim Jewett.

The prisoners should have access to the services, but they should be paid for through labor, suggested Heckathorn.

“They don’t deserve to have the services for free,” he said.

On the second day of classes Friday, the juniors were asked to design prisons or release programs to assist those prisoners who are sent back into society.

Many find it difficult to get jobs, Cordi told the students, yet 90 percent of those incarcerated will be returned to the outside world.

He showed the students pictures of prison cells from throughout the world. Some looked more like dorm rooms than what would be expected in a U.S. facility.

Others displayed conditions which would be unacceptable in our country.

Cordi shared with the students that the prison population has exploded in recent years with the U.S. now having 25 percent of all the prisoners in the world.

The students in the class are being encouraged to have empathy for the opinions of others, said Cross.

Many express opinions they have heard at home without research to support their positions, she said.

She encourages them to take positions unfamiliar to them to give them insight into those on the other side of an issue.

“I don’t state my political beliefs at all,” Cross said.

“I want the students to feel that they can talk about issues here judgment free. I hope they will see things from a new viewpoint which will shape their maturity and encourage them to look beyond TV or the bubble they live in.”

Cross said she hopes the lessons the students learn encourage them to take stands on issues, but which side they support is up to them.

“Be advocates to be the change. Take action, don’t just complain. That is something we all could learn,” said Cross.

This article was originally published in the Kenton Times, and was authored by Dan Robinson.

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