PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Students at high schools in West Philadelphia and Overbrook gathered at the School District Building on Broad Street to compare notes on issues related to mass incarceration.
Rebecca Coven, a 10th grade teacher at The Workshop School, says most of what they do takes place through “interdisciplinary projects,” not going to distinct English, Math or Science classes.
“We’re focused on helping our students solve real world problems,” Coven said.
On mass incarceration, they not only examined the growth of people behind bars, but its impact on society.
“They’re getting credits for history for this project, english credits through this project, and they’re getting math credits,” Coven explained, “because they did an info-graphic analysis.”
They also looked at what policy steps politicians and law enforcement could take.
“So they interviewed someone from the ACLU, or from the Innocence Project, to get their own ideas to get others to take action,” Coven said.
James Elish, a teacher at Science Leadership Academy@Beeber, says they gave students “a baseline, and then let them run with it.”
“They produced policy suggestions for how best to change the system toward their ideal,” Elish said.
For example, his students looked at mass incarceration through an economic lens.
“Some students looked at the cost of incarceration per year versus the cost of rehabilitation or work release programs,” Elish said.
Jacqueline Shepherd, a 17-year old senior at SLA, says the system is “stacked against” poorer folks.
“It’s like they can’t afford bail, they can’t afford a lawyer to give the right amount of attention to a case,” she said.
Salena Robinson, a 16-year old sophomore at the Workshop School, believes the criminal justice system disproportionately harms minorities.
“Black people and Hispanic people are overrepresented,” Robinson said.
Another student wondered why, on a per capital basis, the U.S. still locks up more people than any other nation, and keeps them behind bars for longer periods of time than most other countries.