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January 28, 2022

Editorial: Student groups working with prisoners help our city

By The News-Letter | September 22, 2016

Hopkins announced the winners of the second annual Ten by Twenty Challenge last spring with the goal of the challenge to deepen the University’s connection with the greater Baltimore community. Individuals from across the University submitted 80 ideas, which received votes from thousands of interested students. In the end, five winning proposals were selected to receive up to $20,000 in grant money.

One of these winning proposals was Build. Develop. Empower. (BDE) This idea, conceived by sophomores Sam Randall and Charlie Wang, focuses on providing former prisoners with opportunities for employment. BDE aims to create and facilitate vocational training programs to help previously incarcerated prisoners achieve financial stability and avoid re-entering the prison system.

The Editorial Board commends the Ten by Twenty Challenge’s initiative and views the future implementation of BDE as an important step for the University to increase its engagement with the Baltimore community. This program will address the crucial issue of recidivism, when  former inmates relapse into previous criminal behavior and end up in prison again.

Prison reform within Baltimore and the United States is becoming more of an issue. In a 2015 report conducted by the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative, Baltimore City had 7,795 people in prison out of a total of 620,960, according to the 2010 census information. The state of Maryland had a total of 22,087 residents in prison out of a total population of 5,773,552.

However, BDE  is not the only Hopkins group that has taken notice of problems with the Baltimore prison system. The Jail Tutorial Project has been serving inmates at Baltimore City Detention Center for over 40 years.

Jail Tutorial Project is a student-run group that offers educational services to the inmates, and is currently the Center for Social Concern’s second oldest program. Each week about 30-40 volunteers visit the detention center where they offer the men and women help with a range of educational topics including GED prep.

The Editorial Board commends the students of Jail Tutorial for their participation implementing active change aimed to better the lives of inmates and ultimately solve the cyclical problem of incarceration that plagues the Baltimore community.

Student-created programs like Build. Develop. Empower. and Jail Tutorial Project are helping to improve life for current and former Baltimore’s inmates, and they are also working to lower recidivism rates in our city. By offering educational programs, Hopkins students hope to keep people from going back to prison after they are released.

In addition to these programs, the Editorial Board appreciates efforts by the University to reach out to the community. By providing grants like the Ten by Twenty Challenge and offering outreach classes like the B’More Urban Planning Intersession course, Hopkins helps encourage its students to make real and lasting change in the city.

Randall and Wang developed their idea as a project for this course. The assignment prompted students simply to help someone in Baltimore. Randall and Wang thought of this program and decided to take it out of the classroom by applying for the Ten by Twenty Challenge.

In addition to these programs, mass incarceration needs to be discussed more. For instance, Piper Kerman spoke as part of the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) series last year.

Kerman is the author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, and now she is an activist campaigning for prison reform in America. By bringing her on as a speaker, FAS opened an important forum for discussing the state of prisons in our country. More speeches like this are needed in the future.

These avenues of discussion and practical change are great opportunities for Hopkins students to have an impact on the Baltimore community. We hope that programs like Jail Tutorial and Build. Develop. Empower. will continue to find support at Hopkins from both the administration and students.

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