M. Kay Harris, 71, formerly of Elkins Park, an associate professor emerita at Temple University who helped create and develop the noted Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, died Friday, Nov. 16, of cancer at Riddle Hospital in Media.
In 1981, Professor Harris was a founding faculty member of Temple's criminal justice department, and over the following three decades she pushed to supplement the department's undergraduate courses with an ambitious doctoral program.
At the same time, she conducted research, taught in the department's graduate program, and provided wide-ranging services to those in the criminal justice field. She suggested conceptual reforms to existing institutional and community-based corrections policies.
Those were "informed by her deep-seated desire to create a more just system of criminal justice," her family wrote in a tribute.
Her most well-known contribution, however, began in 1997. While department chair, Professor Harris worked with Lori Pompa, a criminal justice instructor colleague, to create the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, through which Temple students and inmates study together as equals in semester-long courses at a prison. The program began with a Temple class in a Philadelphia jail and grew over 20 years to encompass 30,000 students, incarcerated and not.
"Kay was both the midwife and backbone of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program and has had a profound impact on [its] evolution," said Pompa, now the program's director.
Professor Harris helped shape Inside-Out into an internationally recognized program, often through outreach efforts on her own time. In an October 2017 ceremony on the program's 20th anniversary, she was honored for her contributions. Even after retiring in 2012, Professor Harris continued to nurture Inside-Out and contribute to public discourse on corrections policies.
Professor Peter R. Jones was a friend and colleague of Professor Harris'. Asked to reflect on her legacy, he said: "Inside-Out – both at Temple and in the other universities and colleges in the United States and abroad — reflects who she was and what she believed. All the students and inmates who have completed or will complete the program, and who will be instigators of reform and change, form her intellectual and experiential legacy."
Professor Harris also worked with the Lifers Public Safety Initiative at Graterford Prison, an organization in Montgomery County comprised of and run by inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. She organized mini-conferences at the prison, bringing together incarcerated men and renowned criminologists to discuss issues in the correctional field, including alternatives to incarceration.
In later years, Professor Harris coordinated workshops for Temple students with men who are serving life sentences at the State Correctional Institution Chester. Her scholarly and advocacy work focused on how incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people can enhance public safety and help society by influencing justice policy reforms.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., she was the daughter of Wylie V. and B. Luella Harris. She graduated from Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kan. She was proud of her "Midwestern Kansas roots," Jones said.
She received a bachelor's degree from the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas. She earned a master's degree from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.
Professor Harris was an adventurer who enjoyed traveling the world. She often visited correctional facilities on different continents, collecting information for possible prison reform.
A lively woman with a sense of fun, Professor Harris enjoyed swing dancing. Wherever she went, she looked for opportunities to join in dance nights. In younger days, she played golf and rode horseback.
"She will be fondly remembered for her boundless joie de vivre and optimism, her deep compassion and wisdom, and her long-lasting friendships," her family said.
Professor Harris is survived by partner Jack Bledsoe; a brother; and two nephews.
At her request, there will be no service. She donated her body to science.