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Spring course to be offered behind bars | The Triangle

Spring course to be offered behind bars

Drexel students enrolled in the new Prison, Society and You course will have the opportunity to study alongside 15 incarcerated men at Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility as part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

The course, which is officially listed as Criminal Justice 380, is available during the spring quarter and will allow 15 students to register.

Cyndi Rickards, a criminal justice professor and the director of online learning and service learning for the Department of Service and Communication, is responsible for bringing the program to Drexel. She has followed the work of Inside-Out since its inception in 1996 and has been trying to start a branch of the program at the University since she was hired.

The syllabus for the class looks like any other, and the expectations are the same despite the change in location from the on-campus classroom and the distinctive group of people brought together as peers.

“At the most basic level, this course and program allows students to go behind the walls to reconsider what they have learned about crime and justice, while those on the inside are encouraged to place their life experiences in a larger framework,” the syllabus reads.

According to the document, “Enrolled students will study the history and politics of imprisonment in America, analyze who is imprisoned, discuss the contemporary prison experience, and review release from prison policies, financial costs of incarcerations, and three-strike laws.”

Rickards believes that the course will benefit both outside students — those traveling from campus to the facility each week — and their classmates, the incarcerated men. The program starts with exposing the outside students to conditions and policies within the prison, but Rickards hopes it will evolve into something more.

“I think just going into the prison every week in and of itself is very meaningful. But I think sitting down, eyeball to eyeball, dissecting information, having a course experience with these [incarcerated] men … is something that we could never offer in a traditional classroom,” she said.

The course extends to prisoners an opportunity that may have otherwise been denied.

“This is the first time for these men that they’ve had an opportunity to take a course in higher education, have had the support and encouragement to take an educational course, and to say that your voice is as important as these Drexel students,’” Rickards said.

Rickards hopes that by giving the inside and outside students a safe environment in which to interact, this course will inspire a completely new kind of discussion. She thinks that once the Drexel students become more familiar with their inside counterparts, they will find that they have a lot in common.

“We come in very clearly as colleagues. We’re not doing service learning. We’re not coming in to study these people. We’re coming in as classmates. Some are inside, some are outside, but we are all students, doing the same readings, the same assignments. We have the same expectations,” she said.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which started in 1997, was inspired by the idea that incarcerated men and women, along with college students, have something to gain by studying side-by-side. As peers, everyone involved in the program is exposed to new perspectives, which leads to new ways of looking at topics of crime, justice and other social issues.

There are no prerequisites or class standing requirements, but there is an interview and screening process before students can be enrolled in the course. Those interested can attend an information and interview session in  Room 205 of the PSA building Jan. 23 at 5 p.m., Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. or Jan. 26 at 4 p.m.