National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Patience, Persistence and Programming: Starting and Sustaining a Prison Education Program

The first session of the conference was titled Patience, Persistence, and Programming: Starting and Sustaining a Prison Education Program and featured three coordinators / directors from different programs.

Emily Guenther with Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program

A unique aspect of this program is that it was started by undergraduate students.

One aspect of her presentation featured the paperwork that was required of her to solidify her program and provide courses for academic credit. The university she is affiliated with required her to prove the university students’ safety who volunteered with the program inside of the prison.

To do so, she asked a librarian for help with research to see if there was any information about violent acts happening upon prison volunteers. The librarian found no such documentation; the librarian then provided a statement on not finding any recording any incidents for Emily’s report. She also reached out to other prison higher education programs to see if there had ever been any incidents that have happened with their work; everyone said that no violent acts had happened to any volunteers. Emily then produced a document that featuring the lack of incidents to fulfill the university’s need of proof of safety.

Below is a past panel from this program:

Barbara Sherr Roswell with Goucher Prison Education Partnership

Barbara began her talk with sharing the many issues where we, doing work in prison education, struggle finding balance, such as – build it and they will come vs. build it to last; fly under the radar vs. show your achievements; provide intellectual courses vs. provide foundational courses; how much time spent in the prison vs. on campus; culture of campus and academia vs. culture of prison, etc. While these unique balancing issues exist, many of us face them and we need to talk about the issues to find methods to fulfill the needs of students and the mission of our programs.

She also stressed that key stakeholders in prison education – inside and outside of the prison, supporters and those leery of the program – to know who to ask questions when you are in need. For example, how to create the logistics of brining flash drives in and out of the prison.

Jenifer Drew with Boston University Prison Education Program

The Boston University Prison Education Program began in 1972 and is in two facilities (a men’s a women’s). Jennifer spoke on having the right relationship with the DOC (Department of Corrections) that is balanced with the controlled environment that the DOC has and the university’s environment that has more creative freeness. She highlighted a number of relationships that can be developed between universities and DOCs. Some of them are:

Outside: University runs education program

  • Pro: university is able to use their creativity in the program
  • Con: frustration in the suppression of academic integrity for the DOC to meet their security concern

Into: University enters DOC and teachers/tutors leave after their time

  • Pro: more people can enter prisons and experience education in prison
  • Con: since teachers/tutors leave after their time commitment, many people do not have the opportunity to see the whole process a student goes through

Between: University and DOC has an independent contractor that works with both agencies

  • Pros and cons: I had never heard of this model before, so I forgot to take notes on this section! But, this is how the Boston University Prison Education Partnership operates.

Former DOC: Former DOC employees run education program inside of prison

  • Pro: staff knows security issues and DOC rules

Jennifer asks us: What is your relationship like with the university? What is your relationship like with the DOC? What are to pros and cons you face?

A resource Jennifer suggested to all of us is Prison Study Project from Harvard which part of their project lists all higher education programs in the United States.