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Retired San Diego State University criminal justice professor Paul Sutton, who the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says “has seen the inside of more prisons than many CDCR employees who have spent their entire careers with the department,” recently completed an annual bus tour of the state’s prisons attended by SDSU criminal justice administration students.

“Being able to view the different way each facility ran and its different parameters regarding level of security was fascinating,” said Barbara Rudd, a fourth-year criminal justice major at SDSU. “I enjoyed every bit of it, but the most amazing part was being able to view our state's history of prisons all in one week.”

Sutton arrived at SDSU in 1983, already famous for his documentary Doing Time, which he completed while a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico. When his first students asked to tour a prison, Sutton arranged for a weeklong carpool that traveled to all eight of the state’s existing institutions at the time.

Since the number of prisons has ballooned to 33 in the years since, Sutton’s students now jam 10 to 18 prison visits into their annual five-day excursions.

“I’m big on getting these students exposed to the reality of the situation that they will one day deal with and they’ll be a direct or even indirect part of,” Sutton tells the Department. “They need to know what goes on inside prison and understand the complexities that make it much different than the ‘lockup’ world we see on TV.”

Sutton has filmed another documentary, Prison Through Tomorrow’s Eyes, which features student interviews before, during, and after the trip. The film is now an official selection at the Cannes film festival in France.

“Typically, by the end of the tour, they’re at 180 degrees from their original viewpoint,” Sutton says.

Though now retired, Sutton intends to continue to arrange the prison visits.

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