Terry Pelz, University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) adjunct instructor for the Department of Criminal Justice, organized a field trip to the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville “Walls” Unit in March.
Pelz, a former warden with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, chaperoned 22 students from his “Correctional Systems and Prisons in America” classes.
The students were led by senior warden of the Huntsville Unit, James Jones, who was recognized as Warden of the Year by the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents in 2016. The tour consisted of the historic prison within a prison — a reportedly haunted Texas historic landmark that includes inmate cell blocks, the inmate recreation yard, and the execution chamber.
“The ultimate goal was to visit the death house and the execution chamber,” said Pelz. “Warden Jones, who conducts the executions, explained the execution day security procedures. Students were awe-struck by the experience of being in a room where 549 inmates have been executed since 1982.”
Pelz’ students are studying prison litigation as part of their curriculum. This high-impact experience gave students the opportunity to relate what they are studying to real-world situations.
“I was very proud of the students for asking pointed questions of the warden. One, in particular, centered on whether the prison agency would allow a same-sex marriage ceremony,” Pelz said.
Students were informed that some wardens would probably resist even though brief traditional marriage ceremonies are sometimes conducted inside the prisons. Pelz also noted that in the landmark civil rights case, Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and this should be upheld in prisons across the U.S. as a result.
These types of activities guarantee that UHD students are getting effective learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.