National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Collaboration Beyond Campus: Building Connections Between the Prison and Univesity

Nalini Nadkarni with Sustainability in Prisons Project at Evergreen State College

Nalini created a science lecture series and lab to produce sustainable operations, education, scientific research, and conservation. This includes organic gardens, bee keeping, water catching, composting, recycling, raising butterflies, prairie plant restoration, etc.

This program allows students to develop science skills, collaboration skills, and critical thinking.

She also took views of nature to supermax prisons by creating large installations.

Below is her TED Talk.

George Lombardi with Missouri Department of Corrections

George is the director of MDOC. Prison, he said, is like a small city and has the same operational needs. He reminded us that when bringing interns into the prison that every major has a role in the facility.

He also suggested that staff are offered the same opportunities, for he sees staff struggling with their own education or their children’s education.

George has observed that having colleges and educational programs in MDOC change the environment in a positive way.

He is an advocate for an dog training program to save dogs that face euthanization.  This program connects the city to the prison which makes the community see prisoners as something other than what is on tv. It also shows that the people in this program can give something back to the community. Many of the staff and community members later adopt the trained dogs. Participants in this program keep a journal of their experience that is then transferred to the adoptive parents to be able to know their dog better.

A unique aspect of George’s program policies is that all prisoners have access to programming. He believes that limiting programming based on the length of the sentence does not treat the person.

Jody Lewen with Prison University Project

Jody joins correctional officer organizations and goes to their conventions to incorporate their worldview into their program’s training to better describe officers and how to work well within the prison environment.

She stated that officers are often vilified and demonized by outside volunteers. We need to listen and hear their concerns; provide eye contact, be aware of your body language, say hello, and reach out to staff as individuals and their professional organizations. Have conversations about education in prison with them.

Sean Pica with Hudson Link for Higher Education, Inc. 

I wasn’t able to take notes during Sean’s presentation, but check out their program! You can also watch some videos about their work on their vimeo channel.

National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Welcoming

prison conferenceToday was the first day of the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. It has been absolutely amazing! I cannot wait to see what else the next two days have in store for us!

We were welcomed by Dean Dr. Jennifer Giancola of St. Louis University School for Professional Studies and champion for the university’s prison education program. Their education program is described as:

The Saint Louis University Prison Program offers an Associates of Arts degree to members of the ERDCC community through the School for Professional Studies.

Founded in 2008, the Prison Program initially offered a certificate in Theological Studies to fifteen men incarcerated at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Corrections Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre, MO. The first certificate class graduated in 2010.  A grant from the Hearst Foundation in 2010 enabled the Prison Program to offer an Associate of Arts degree to incarcerated persons and prison staff.  Students study aspects of society and culture; improve comprehension, speaking, and writing skills; think critically about their future; and develop competencies enabling incarcerated persons to reenter society with prospects for positive experiences, and staff to advance in their careers.

A unique aspect of their program is that the prison’s staff can also partake in the education program. She described that the staff were skeptical at first as to why they were offering them the chance at the program as well (wondering what the catch was), but now staff are embracing the program. Incarcerated students and staff who are students are usually taught separately with the exception of a few workshops, due primarily because of power / authority issues between staff and people behind bars.


A strategy provided to maintain a healthy relationship with prison administration was to have administrators come to the program to see how it operates. Many administrators have had a positive response to their visit and a dialogue about the education programs state would naturally be addressed.

A question asked to Dr. Giancola and other key leaders was how the program is justified, especially since two main arguments are commonly made: education is vital and is for everyone & education provides a safer prison atmosphere, reduces costs, and reduces recidivism. The answer given was that both are necessary to be used, because one or the other will strike someone as a rational to approve of, fund, or participate in the higher education programs.