At Villanova Law, students are taking the initiative and working collaboratively with faculty to create new opportunities to serve the community. A good example is Anna Boyd ’19, who has created a program for law students to work with prison inmates. Boyd believes that visiting a correctional facility is important for any law student. For Boyd, that means not simply touring a prison, but actually working with inmates in order to understand their lives.
“There are a lot of areas of law that can cause an attorney to have to represent or prosecute someone in prison,” Boyd said. “For me, it’s important to visit while in law school. How can you be a prosecutor or public defender and never set foot in prison prior to practice?”
A graduate of Villanova University, Boyd volunteered as an undergraduate at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford. At Graterford, she and other students provided one-on-one literacy and GED tutoring for inmates. Her experience sparked a passion for criminal justice reform, leading her to Villanova Law. Once in law school, Boyd knew she wanted her peers to experience what she had in college, gaining hands-on experience with the prison system and inmates.
Boyd took her idea to Noreen Cameron, Director of Service Learning at Villanova, and Steven Chanenson, Professor of Law. With support from the Office of Service Learning and the Law School, Boyd and a group of law students began meeting with inmates once a week at the State Correctional Institution at Chester, an all-male, medium-security prison outside of Philadelphia.
For the program, Boyd and the students select readings on the criminal justice system for the inmates to study ahead of their student-led reading groups. About 10 to 15 men come prepared to participate in active and vigorous dialogue on the readings.
“The men have a lot to say. We’re more mediators than participants, but I’m also there to offer my perspective and throw in ideas about what I know from my legal education that are related to the things they’re talking about,” Boyd said. “These men are incredibly informed. Many of them have been incarcerated for a decade or more, and a lot of their legal education comes from advocating for themselves.”
This program is the first of its kind at Villanova Law, and allows students who are interested in Criminal Law to see how the criminal justice system works first-hand, while at the same time gaining a better understanding of the lives of those incarcerated.
With Boyd slated to graduate in May 2019 with her JD/MBA, the Criminal Law Society, a student organization at Villanova Law, has voted to create a position on its board to continue the program. Boyd will occupy this spot on the board until graduation, after which she will head to Washington, DC to work in the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Chief Counsel, Financial Institutions and Products Division.