Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Tackling Mass Incarceration through Social Innovation
The HWS Update
Hackathon

Tackling Mass Incarceration through Social Innovation

This year’s Hackathon, a 24-hour social innovation challenge, tackled the issue of mass incarceration. Sponsored by the Centennial Center, the event included nine teams from Hobart and William Smith and three teams from Union College. The HWS team “Earth Enthusiasts” – Juniper Asaro-Niederlitz ’22 and Katherine Vangaever ’21 – tied for second place for their idea: YES (Youth Education Support), which proposed youth intervention and support programs aimed at reducing school suspensions.

“The problem we are focusing on specifically is how school suspensions fuel mass incarceration by contributing to the school-to-prison-pipeline. Students who are suspended are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than students who are not suspended. We also found out that they are 50 percent more likely to be incarcerated later in life,” Asaro-Niederlitz ’22 says.

Asaro-Niederlitz, a philosophy and writing and rhetoric double major, and Vangaever, an economics and international relations double major, were also part of the winning Hackathon team in 2019.

Asaro-Niederlitz and Vangaever’s YES program would provide a safe space for students during periods of suspension, both during the academic day and after-school. Resources provided by YES would include facilitated interactions with mentors and access to counselors. The program would also include active learning, art classes and athletics.

The winning Union College team “Real Women Vote for Prison Reform” focused on the creation of community-based programming solutions. Through “Community Library Integrated Centers,” the team proposed utilizing public libraries to provide trauma-informed care to children and families, people who are incarcerated or people who are reintegrating to their community following incarceration. The judges commended the winners for reimagining public space.

All competing teams had five minutes to pitch their idea to the judges then fielded questions. Watch the keynote, pitches and award presentation here.

The keynote address was delivered by HWS Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology Jim Sutton, who teaches courses on criminology, juvenile delinquency and social deviance.

Roundtable discussions were led by James Schuler, assistant director of Wayne County youth advocate programs, director of Wayne County Youth Court and cofounder and chair of the Wayne County My Brother’s Keeper advisory board; Samuel Leach, chief probation officer in Calaveras County, Calif.; Rosemary Avila, program coordinator for workforce programs, reintegration services at the Center for Community Alternatives; and Brian Lewis, deputy director at exalt.

This year’s judges were Ruth Shields, associate director for the HWS Center for Teaching and Learning; Renée Grant, associate director of Intercultural Affairs at HWS; Elias Beltran, student in comparative literature and Spanish language instructor at Cornell University; and Anastasia Wilson, instructor of economics at HWS.

In the photo above, Grace Faulkner ’22, Colleen Boucher ’22 and Katie Mullins ’22 participate in the 2020 Hackathon.