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Inside-Out Prison Exchange

Student speaks with prisoner in Chester, Pa

Where students get an up-close look at the incarceration epidemic

Taught by Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88 since 2012 through the auspices of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, this course provides Swarthmore students with the opportunity to study in real time the systems and the consequences of the mass-incarceration epidemic. Over the course of 14 weeks, “insider” students from the prison system in Chester, Pa., and Swarthmore student “outsiders” are tasked with creating and researching projects and programs that could tangibly help the break the cycle of incarceration.

Examples include a program that gives tax credits to businesses that hire the recently incarcerated, a training program for individuals recently released from jail or prison, and a resource guide to help the newly released connect with their parole officers and acquire a driver’s license, a GED, and other life skills.

“Everyone who had this class was changed in some way,” said Hannah Lehmann ’13. “In this course, a person starts with a particular understanding of things, but the space the course creates breaks something. There is a change, and you end up in a different place. Students come out with more freedom to make sense of the world.”

“This is a personal journey but also a professional journey—to understand how this community space [in Chester, in particular], which helped give rise to someone like Martin Luther King, has all of these men with criminal backgrounds coming out of prison not able to legitimately fuel the labor market,” says Reeves. “It’s fueling the intergenerational poverty that we’re seeing among inner-city communities. This course is a nice space to grapple with some of those issues.”

Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88 grew up in Chester, taught at a county prison, and later completed 60 intensive hours of training to become an Inside-Out instructor.