The Class of 2022 Explores Mass Incarceration Reform in the U.S.

In October 2019, the Class of 2022 traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of their Learning Lab II experience. Learning Lab II is an annual trip designed by sophomore Park Scholars to afford an understanding of how complex decisions are made at a national level and the role of leaders in shaping these decisions. For their Learning Lab II topic, the Class of 2022 chose to focus on mass incarceration reform. They analyzed proposed reforms to the policies that have led to mass incarceration and engaged in efforts to mitigate its harsh impacts, especially its disproportionate effects on low-income and minority communities.

Scholars met with leaders from a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in the criminal justice system and criminal justice reform. Leaders highlighted the challenges inherent in balancing safety and justice, and emphasized the complexity of the legal and political landscape surrounding mass incarceration. For example, scholars met with Somil Trivedi, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who spoke about the central role of prosecutors in the current criminal justice system. Scholars also heard from Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, who discussed the role of the Department of Justice in preventing recidivism. 

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The scholars found that one of the most impactful sessions was when they met with Tara Libert and members of the Free Minds Book Club. Free Minds uses books and creative writing to serve D.C. youth charged and incarcerated as adults, enabling them to achieve educational and career goals and become powerful voices for change in their communities. During the meeting, formerly incarcerated members of Free Minds read poetry written by currently incarcerated members. This experience provided the critical voice of the currently incarcerated to the Class of 2022’s discussion of mass incarceration. 

Besides meeting with experts, members of the Class of 2022 attended a performance of August Wilson’s “Fences” at the famous Ford’s Theatre, took a nighttime walking tour of D.C.’s monuments, and visited museums, including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art. 

The Class of 2022’s Learning Lab II trip was a powerful experience that taught scholars about the challenges and opportunities of leadership at a national level. Meeting with experts on mass incarceration reform endowed them with the strategies and motivation necessary to make the scholars more effective leaders in their own communities.