Prison Reform & Criminal Justice Systems


Duration 6 days
Suggested group size 12 - 20 students / 2 Envoys Field Staff
Suggested ages 14 - 18
Experience Prison Reform & Criminal Justice Systems


Prison Reform & Criminal Justice Systems

Philadelphia I

In this learning experience, students explore the deeply layered problematics of prison institutions and the criminal justice system, while analyzing the different solutions proposed by prison reform. They get a chance 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.

“Philadelphia, where the Liberty Bell tolls the birth of a nation. “


“Beautiful streets echo the footsteps of revolutionaries, inviting all to explore history's archives.“


Impact Statement Everywhere we go, we carry a promise – to engage with respect, act with purpose, and leave a positive imprint. As envoys of our journey is more than travel; Our footprint is light, but our impact is profound, creating bridges of cooperation and mutual growth across the globe.

Day 1

Upon arrival in Philadelphia, students head to their accommodations and receive a safety briefing. We read an excerpt from William Penn’s Charter of Privileges and discuss the foundations of prisons in the US. We then head out to explore the surrounding area and have a welcome dinner together.

Day 2

We arrive in Old City, where we visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall Center, and Congress Hall. We discuss the democratic ideals inherent in America’s governing document, and head off to Reading Terminal. Later, students with people from the Modern Courts to discuss the US Judicial System.

Day 3

A tour of murals by Mural Arts Philadelphia, an organization with a restorative justice guild program for previously incarcerated artists. Then, free exploration time followed by a workshop with Dee Dee Haw on the art of storytelling and the role it plays in advocacy and reform work in Philadelphia.

Day 4

We visit the African American Museum, and then Temple University to meet representatives from the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, which facilitates courses inside prisons. We go to the Pennsylvania Prison Society to meet an Education and Advocacy Fellow. Finally, free exploration of Philadelphia

Day 5

We take a guided tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, where we learn about the history of the prison and its impact on incarceration practices across the nation. After a debrief, we eat lunch and visit Urban Eminence at a local recreation center to learn about their mission and initiatives.

Day 6

On our final day, we hold our program closing ceremony, during which students process their experiences, draw connections between issues here and back home, and make plans for how we will draw on the inspirations to make a difference in their own communities and as global citizens.

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Lenses of Inquiry


The origins of the justice system

Students explore the historical origins of our justice system and trace its evolution. Study demographic disparities in prison and societal contexts that relate to incarceration and analyze the role of private prisons in increasing incarceration rates and social political climate in Philadelphia.


Evolution of the incarceration system

We begin with William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, followed by the infamous Eastern State Penitentiary. Finally, we examine the plague of mass incarceration today, the realities of private prisons, and the work of social organizations for a more equitable criminal justice.


Advocacy, action and reform

We examine how civil rights groups and individuals act to improve unjust systems. Students meet with representatives of organizations working in multiple areas of prison reform and within movements for abolition, and learn about their motivations, approaches, successes and dreams for the future.


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