Starting in the spring semester of 2017, Wilkes University will be running a program designed to give students a deeper understanding of the United States prison system. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, the only one of its kind across Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, will take 12 Wilkes students and 12 inmates from State Correctional Institution Dallas and combine them for a class that will examine the criminal justice system from inside the correctional facility itself.
The goal of the class is to give students a deeper understanding of what goes on inside of a prison, the functions of a prison, the experience and the minds of prisoners themselves.
“What if you were to be defined by the worst thing you have ever done, and only that?” asks Dr. Craig Wiernik, sociology professor who will be teaching the class. Wiernik hopes that in answering this question over the semester, his students will come to realize that there are more to these people than the crimes they have committed.
“(My goal) is to have students recognize that the men and women that we are putting into these prisons are human beings, even if they have made some really bad decisions,” he said.
The students are not the only ones who will be getting something out of the class however. The inmates participating will also be expected to do all of the assignments and coursework throughout the semester.
“People in prison are really hungry for educational opportunities” Wiernik said. “If we can increase the education of people in prison, they will have the tools available to help themselves get a job in the modern world.”
When it comes to the prisoners, they will come from diverse backgrounds. There are no restrictions on what type of prisoners can take the class, and students will not have any indication as to the nature of their crimes ahead of time.
“They will be interviewed ahead of time like the students will be, but there are no restrictions.” Wiernik noted, “They could be doing three to four years for a DUI, or be serving life sentences for murder.”
Students who were interested in taking the class were required to fill out an application and go through an interview process which will result in 12 students being chosen to take the class.
“I was really impressed with the turnout of Wilkes students” Wiernik said, “I hope to run it again every year.