Kriya Patel (’12) helps incarcerated women get healthcare

Payal Ahuja, Reporter

Kriya Patel, a former BC student (’12), now a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, was recently awarded a President’s Engagement Prize. Created by Penn president, Amy Gutmann, this prestigious award gives winners the chance to develop and implement a promising student engagement project after graduation, and is the largest of its kind in higher education. Patel received this award for her work in ensuring that upon reentry into society, women in prison receive the necessary identification and proper health insurance.

As stated in Penn News, Patel said, “At Riverside [Correctional Facility] right now, there are 622 women, but within the past 12 months 5,200 different women have been released. With a team of three people, we would hopefully be able to process 18 applications a day, which, within a year, would mean that we would be able to help 4,050 women receive Medicaid.”

Patel first got the idea of working with incarcerated women in her “Women and Incarceration” class, where she spent a whole semester learning about downfalls of Philadelphia’s prison system. She, along with the rest of the class, visited Riverside Correctional Facility once a week to conduct workshops to teach prisoners about health. Through this class, Patel realized the immense burden of people in prisons, specifically women.

“I realized that these women are actually very vulnerable and in need of our help,” Patel explained. “Our current system does not allow them the resources they need to reenter society successfully.”

Patel also credited her high school experience as being instrumental in her understanding of people and their issues.

“I was pretty involved in Key Club, which made me realize that serving the community was really important to me. Also, my AP Government class did a mock trial case regarding the acceptability of a juvie life sentence without parole. That was the first time I really thought about the criminal justice system in our country.”

With her award, which gives as much as $100,000 for project implementation, Patel hopes to assist these women by providing them with solid healthcare options that they can then use to ensure that they have been through the necessary health screenings. Patel and her mentor Kathleen Brown, a practice associate professor in Penn’s School of Nursing, plan to work with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and the County Assistance Office to guarantee that the steps that these incarcerated women learn to take for their health do not go unnoticed, and are granted approval quickly.

In the future, Patel says that she hopes to use her Biological Basis of Behavior major to continue to work with the prison population and make sure that their reentry into society is smooth. Currently, jail data show that most of these people go back to jail just months after being released due to the great focus of punishment over rehabilitation in the prison system. Patel and her mentor hope to equip these women with skills that they can then use to lead a crime-free life. The President’s Engagement Prize helps greatly, as Patel said, for her to continue her work with the prison population.

“Through this whole experience, I learned how we as a society treat our most vulnerable population. It was very eye-opening for me.”