Prison Project continues to help inmates attain GEDs, further studies


The typical college student doesn’t fill their week with visiting the local prison, but for about 25 Lehigh students, that’s exactly the case.

In 2007, Lloyd Steffen, Lehigh’s chaplain and a professor of religion studies, created the Prison Project. The Prison Project is a tutoring project that involves Lehigh students to visit the North Hampton County Prison. For about an hour and a half a week Lehigh students sit down for a one-on-one session with a low-security, noncriminal inmate. Students help tutor all subjects including social studies, math, English or whichever subject the student is working on at the time to help with GED preparations.

The program began out of a course that Steffen taught called Practical Justice. Students worked with a local school, health care centers on the South Side and the local prison. Once the course was finished, Steffen decided to keep contact with the prison and kept the program going.

Around 25 students participate in the program every year, including a few faculty members.

“The students genuinely enjoy the work, and find that they are doing something meaningful and positive,” Steffen said.

As for the inmates, their participation is completely voluntary. Students are never in any sort of danger, and the inmates who participate in the program want to be there.

“They are trying to improve their situation,” Steffen said. “A program like this is good for the prison, its good for Lehigh as a wonderful educational experience as well. They look forward to getting to know Lehigh students. The relationships are very meaningful.”

The only requirement for students who are interested in the program is a willingness to be there, Steffen said.

“The thing we emphasize is that there is a person on the other end who is waiting for you, and this is the high point of their week,” he said. “If your schedule is so full and you can’t fit this into it, then don’t do it.”

Lehigh students have no GPA requirement to be a part of the program.

Among the inmates in the facility, Steffen has heard success stories. He has seen some inmates leave the prison and continue on to community college. Not only does the program benefit the inmates, but also impacts Lehigh students.

“I have found the Prison Project to be tremendously rewarding,” Brooke Bartles, ’18, said. “Working with the inmates one on one is an eye-opening experience. The men and women we work with are trying to better their lives by attaining their GED and they are so appreciative of any help we can offer them.”

Personally, Steffen said he has been a spiritual counselor, spent time working on death penalty issues and worked in many prisons, which makes the issue very close and personal to him. He has been able to use his personal experiences to create an experience for Lehigh students who might not normally have this opportunity.

“Lehigh students in general are a particularly advantaged lot of folks,” Steffen said. “(Here), they get to encounter disadvantaged people and I think that’s a learning experience, and I don’t think they have that many opportunities in college to do that.

“So those who do decided to participate have an experience that can change them and alter them, and it shows them what kind of compassion they have and concern they have for others.”

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.

Leave A Reply