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WVU junior, Morgantown native honored nationally for work in state’s prison population

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A West Virginia University junior and Morgantown native is being honored for her work with prison populations.

Emma Harrison, a Morgantown High School Class of 2015 graduate, has been named a 2018 Newman Civic Fellow by the Campus Compact and is a finalist for the Truman Scholarship.

Harrison first became interested in working with prison populations during her time with the WVU College of Law sect of The Innocence Project.

“We get innocent people out of prison,” Harrison said on “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network. “We get innocent West Virginians out of prison. I’ve been able to learn about the law and West Virginians through that.”

She touts the need for an expansion of education programs inside of West Virginia prisons, which she credits to the “Inside-Out Prison Exchange,” a program where 15 WVU students attend a class with 15 correctional inmates.

“It’s important to get to know one another and help our neighbors out,” she said. “The population that I just chose happens to be people in prison, and they are our neighbors too. Most of them are West Virginians, so they were in our community in that sense at some point. And they will be coming back into our community most likely.”

Harrison also advocates the increased use of book clubs in prisons, including in the FCI Kennedy Center in Morgantown — where she occasionally teaches a class.

“Whenever I go in, there is always the wonder of ‘Who is this person? What are they doing here?’ Harrison said. “A lot of people don’t want to be studied. They live there. That’s their home. They don’t want people coming in and out and talking about them and studying them.”

She said the key to her success in that environment is to avoid being perceived as a tourist or a visitor.

“Once they see that I have a demonstrated interest, and that I will come back, I will get to know them, I will be their teacher for long-term, that really helps bridge that gap.”

Harrison is one of 268 students nationwide recognized by Campus Compact as ‘public problem solvers,’ and she plans to use her fellowship year to continue to help expand the book club program started under the Appalachian Prison Book Project.

“Really broadcasting our love for reading and education, that we really feel that getting way into a book is really powerful,” she said. “It’s powerful for us. I know it’s powerful for them as well.”

Harrison is studying political science and multidisciplinary studies at WVU.

She interviews for the Truman Scholarship next month, considered to be among the premier graduate fellowship programs in the United States for those pursuing public service as a profession.

The 2018 Class of Truman Scholars, which includes 194 students from 137 institutions, will be announced April 20.

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