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When Penn 2021 graduates Carson Eckhard, Natalia Rommen, and Sarah Simon set up a program called Project HOPE, they wanted to tackle wrongful convictions and help inmates prepare to reenter society upon release.
In the year since it got underway, and backed by support from the 2021 President’s Engagement Prize, the project has helped free Jehmar Gladden, who spent more than 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and graduated the first cohort of inmates from an innovative reentry program piloted at a state correctional institution.
“It's been an amazing year and a pretty resounding success,” says Simon.
Gladden says even that is an understatement. “These Penn students have changed my life. Everyone forgets the people who are the cogs in the machine who actually make things work. That’s what these students did. They did so much of that background work. They stepped up to the plate and they hit a home run.”
Project HOPE was one of three ventures chosen for the 2021 President’s Engagement Prize. Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive and lasting difference in the world. Each project receives $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend for each team member.
Project HOPE’s goal was to address the lack of legal and reentry support to incarcerated Pennsylvanians by serving as the core of an expansive advocacy network.
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