portrait of Patricia PerkinsPrior to joining the Elon Law full-time faculty in 2010, Associate Professor Patricia Perkins litigated claims involving law enforcement, jails and prisons. She also represented, pro bono, death row inmates who challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection.

“It is both our privilege and our responsibility as lawyers to ensure that all people can access the justice system,” she says, “and not just those who can afford to pay for legal representation.”

Perkins brings that same passion to a Prisoners’ Rights course she periodically offers in addition to classes on civil procedure and constitutional law. Students travel to South Africa for nearly two weeks at the end of a fall term to meet with judges, attorneys and nonprofit leaders to grow an international perspective on what America does well, and where it lags, balancing justice and rehabilitation.

Students visit maximum security prisons, meet with South Africa’s top judicial leaders and tour Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served much of his sentence during apartheid. Perkins is aware of no other prisoners’ rights program of its kind in American legal education. Several students who complete the course quickly consider her a mentor.

“Our experiences in South Africa are deeply impactful,” she says, “and it’s exciting to see the ways that those experiences shape students’ professional development, career choices and drive to serve incarcerated people and other vulnerable groups.”