Inside Out:
Prison Reform in Philadelphia

In this program, students explore the deeply layered problematics of prison institutions and the criminal justice system, while exploring the different solutions proposed by prison reform. We visit institutions such as the Eastern State Penitentiary and organizations like the Institute for Community Justice, to learn about the complexities of privately owned prisons, how and why different demographics are disproportionately represented in prisons, and about the work of prison reform initiatives.

Learning Objectives

Understand the history and economics of private prisons
Understand how and why certain demographics are disproportionately represented in prisons
Learn about criminal justice and prison reform initiatives in the U.S.

Places and Activities

This program is flexible, and can be offered in 3, 5, or 7 day itineraries.

We take a guided tour of the prison, where we learn the origins of “separate incarceration”, meant to emphasize reform rather than punishment. Students delve into the origins of Bentham’s panopticon and Foucault’s use of the panopticon as a metaphor for modern disciplinary society. We also learn about the discrepancies between the prison’s purported goals / presentation of itself during the tour and the reality of prisoners’ lives within.

We meet with the Center’s Director, Lori Pompa to learn about their programs. Students learn about facilitating dialogues across differences. We delve into the Inside-Out model of course developing and understand what advantages and disadvantages this model entails.

We visit the Institute and meet with Director Assata Thomas to learn about the support services that empower incarcerated people to thrive. Students approach the barriers to successful reentry into society ex-convicts face, while also exploring the reality of which essential services are lacking in prisons and being filled by the ICJ.

Students have the opportunity to volunteer at this organization, reading request letters, choosing books, and packing them for sending. This activity allows students to learn how systematic educational inequality leads to cycles of poverty and crime. We also learn about the poor/lack of access to educational programming and materials inside prisons, and how they can help change public perception about incarcerated people.

This organization dates back to 1787. On our visit, we meet with the society’s leadership to learn about its rich history, as well as what they’re focused on fighting for now. This visit allows students to understand how and why incarceration has increased by 500% in the last 40 years while the crime rate has gone down.

We go on a Mural Mile Walking Tour where we witness and explore urban art in Philadelphia while exploring how it ties to our program’s theme. We then meet with the leadership of the Guild program, which consists of a paid apprenticeship program for job training and mentorship that includes public art projects. Students delve into how public art benefits communities and learn about how job or skill training can help reduce recidivism.

We visit the Center to explore a new facet of the prison system, where we build our understanding of how young people without access to legal counsel are deceived and profited upon. Students explore the Development of the Youth Matters resource map and how this model can be adapted.

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