Inmate re-entry supported by Georgetown education

Georgetown University’s Prison Scholars Program provides an education opportunity to inmates preparing for release.

The program garnered national attention when Kim Kardashian West visited the facility to film a documentary about criminal justice reform. West visited the class of over 50 men and women –  inmates who are awaiting trial, serving a shorter sentence, or are preparing to re-enter their communities after serving extended sentences within the Bureau of Prisons.

A majority of the students fall into the last category. Derrick Lewis has currently served 23 years of a life sentence given to him for his involvement in a murder that took place when he was 17.

In Miller v. Alabama (2012) the Supreme Court found that life imprisonment of a juvenile – in any circumstance – was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Four years later, the court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) found that its 2012 determination could be used retroactively in the cases of those who had already been sentenced. This enabled over 2,000 incarcerated individuals the opportunity to appeal for their release.

Lewis plans to appeal his case in March 2020. He expressed his optimism at the thought of release. “30 people have already been released and my case is just as strong as any of the others,” said Lewis.

If released, he already knows what he’s going to do. With his Georgetown education and motivation to serve the youth community, he is going to work with Watson’s House of Love for Youth. He wants to provide the intervention that he didn’t receive as a juvenile in the D.C. community.

Lewis also said that this was a way of making the best of his past mistakes. “I did something irreversible. I took someone’s life. He was someone’s child, someone’s father.”

50 students and 10 guests joined in the jail’s chapel for the class. Each Tuesday of the semester, the students hear from a guest speaker connected to one of the three humanities classes they are currently enrolled in. The students work on assignments throughout the week and submit them for grading and feedback.

This program serves as a way for Georgetown to be involved with the D.C. community. It is also a way for the University to serve in a way that reflects its commitment to Jesuit-Catholic values. The Jesuit principle cited for this specific program is cura personalis, “care for the whole person.”

The program is largely run by volunteers from the university and D.C. community.


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