The Law Teacher
Socrates Behind Bars

Social prejudices and taboos on crime, criminals and prisons offer a simplistic, biased and altogether negative image of penal institutions and those involved in them.

This paper describes a particular educational experience: a course that took place in prison involving law students and inmates.

One of the co-authors was the leading instructor in the course, whereas the other played an active role during its design and implementation. Social prejudices and taboos on crime, criminals and prisons offer a simplistic, biased and altogether negative image of penal institutions and those involved in them.

This picture pervades society in general, and the legal professions in particular.

The course described in this paper is aimed at bridging the gap between inmates and future lawyers by bringing them together into the same classroom to think and reflect collectively.

The method used was the Socratic dialogue, in which the professor acted as a “spiritual midwife” encouraging dialogue and debate around fundamental issues such as truth, fear, happiness, respect, responsibility, justice, and so on. During each session, participants explored these concepts in depth, and had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the other’s point of view. The ultimate aim was that upon completing this course both groups could have a better understanding of each other’s realities.

This paper is based on the personal accounts of the participants in the course, including professors and students (both law students and inmates). The methodology is qualitative and phenomenological, and its value lies in the singularity of the experience. Drawing on the theory of justice of Amartya Sen, we identify this course as a non-transcendentalist and non-institutionalist approach to justice, exploring the role that emotions play in it.

In the conclusions we express our belief that by thinking together and trusting each other students and inmates can open themselves to a logic of cooperation that connects both with a broader sense of justice and the enhancement of democracy.

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