Grant connects students with inmates

By Liz Garrett
August 28, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

A three-year, $180,000 grant has been awarded to Cabrini College in order to aid its affiliation with the Norristown community. The Pew Charitable Trustees is responsible for giving the grant, which is dedicated to assist in prisoner reentry programs for individuals exiting the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.

“This grant creates a network that will bring together agencies and resources to prepare incarcerated individuals to reenter society while they are still in prison, and to continue supporting them when they are released into the community,” David Chiles, director of the Wolfington Center, said.

These men and women are in need of services to help them prepare to return to society. Social workers, members of the community and the criminal justice system are among the many associates within the Norristown network that will also be involved with this program.

“The network will be a tremendous benefit to the prison, to the agencies who will see their programs strengthened through collaboration and to Norristown, which will benefit from a lower rate of repeat offenders,” Chiles said.

The mission of the project, which has been in effect for three years, is to create a link for previously imprisoned individuals so that they have access to job opportunities, housing and education.

“The vast majority of ex-prisoners really want to do the right thing and not return to prison, but they face a lot of obstacles,” Dr. Jeffrey Gingerich, associate professor of sociology, said. “It’s important, both for the ex-offender and for the community safety, that we give them as much support as possible to make good decisions in their new life.”

Only a total of 100 men and women will be chosen to participate in this program every year. The ultimate goal of this project is to gradually decrease the amount of people who leave the correctional facility and end up returning to prison.

“Cabrini will benefit as well, since our students will have the opportunity to work with the network through internships and field placements,” Chiles said in response to how the Cabrini College community will become a part of the program.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: Exploring Issues of Crime and Justice Behind the Walls is the program that allows Cabrini students to have the chance to learn in the presence of several inmates.

This is a SEM 300 class that meets weekly in the Montgomery County Prison. There are 15 Cabrini students (who are called outside students) and 15 inmates (who are called inside students) who have the opportunity to learn together in the same environment.

“This is a great chance for the college to partner with the Norristown community to address a need that was voiced by people in the community,” Gingerich said. “Cabrini was able to access the resources for this program and now we can work with the prison and the Norristown community to improve the support for men and women leaving prison.”

Along with learning about issues of crime and justice, the 30 students are assigned the same type of school work. There are also projects designed for both the inside and outside students to work on together. Reports on prisoner reentry have been formulated over the past two years that truly show the class’s ability to work together, according to Gingerich.

“I’m personally very excited about this grant. It expresses the commitment of the college to work collaboratively with Norristown to create a real, positive change in the community,” Chiles said. “It strengthens our partnerships, and those partners will have more capacity to provide deep and impactful educational opportunities for our students.”

Liz Garrett

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