CORVALLIS, Ore. – Michelle Inderbitzin, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University whose pioneering work in the Oregon prison system continues to expand, has been named the Ruby Isom Volunteer of the Year by the Oregon Criminal Justice Association.
She was nominated by Brian Belleque, superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, the state’s only maximum-security prison. In his nomination, Belleque said, “The time she takes to volunteer…allows the Oregon State Penitentiary to provide services and programs to the inmate population to better educate them and give them skills that will improve their chances for successful reentry into society upon their release from prison.”
Inderbitzin broke new ground in 2007 when she became the first on the West Coast to teach an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program class in a maximum-security men’s prison. The class of 15 OSU students and 15 inmates met for 11 weeks at Oregon State Penitentiary, discussing criminal justice issues.
This year, Inderbitzin continues to expand her work in Oregon’s correctional facilities. She plans to teach a small class at the all-female Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in the winter, where OSU students and the girls inside the Albany-based facility will learn college-level material on issues of crime and gender. Inderbitzin received one of two grants given out each year by the American Sociological Association Teaching Enhancement Fund to help buy supplies and build a deeper connection between OSU and Oak Creek. In addition, Inderbitzin’s students are working on setting up an internship program for Oak Creek.
In the spring, Inderbitzin will teach another Inside-Out course at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem.
She also is excited about a new program that she hopes to start soon at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Inderbitzin is working with the Lifer’s Club at OSP to start a literacy program where incarcerated fathers who have graduated from their parenting program will have the chance to read the same books as their children (ages 8-17, approximately).
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the kids and their dads to be encouraged to read,” Inderbitzin said. “But is also will give them another chance to connect and they can talk about the book they both read and what they thought of it on the phone or in letters.”
As an extension of that, Inderbitzin recently received an L.L Stewart Faculty Grant to buy a video camera that can record directly to mini-DVDs. Her plan is to record the incarcerated fathers reading to their kids.
“The idea would be to send the DVD to their children, hopefully in time for Christmas,” she said. “It seems like a nice way to help keep them connected.”
Oregon Criminal Justice Association’s mission is to work for a better understanding and the prevention of causes of delinquency and crime; to promote the development of effective programs in the juvenile and adult justice system; to sponsor and contribute to high quality and low cost professional training; to provide a forum to develop and voice important criminal justice issues.