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Critical Education Publishes “Education and Transformation: An Argument for College in Prison”

May 1, 2019 In the Press

The latest manuscript in Critical Education’s special volume on higher education in prison has now been published. Listed below are links to the previously published manuscripts in the series. These manuscripts are free to print, distribute, and download. 


Radical Departures: Ruminations on the Purposes of Higher Education in Prison
Critical Education
Guest Editors: Erin L. Castro & Mary Rachel Gould

May 1, 2019
Education and Transformation: An Argument for College in Prison
Carmen Heider, Karen Lehman

This essay explores the question, “What does it mean to learn inside of a prison?” by featuring an incarcerated student’s narrative about earning a bachelor’s degree through correspondence courses while serving her prison sentence. The narrative explores the challenges of taking college courses while incarcerated and the impact that those courses can have on growth and development. The narrative is followed by a critical dialogue between the student and one of her instructors, and explores in more detail some of the themes that emerge from the narrative.  The essay demonstrates the importance of higher education in prison and highlights the impact of such programs on both the student and the broader prison population.  

April 1, 2019
Beyond Recidivism: Identifying the Liberatory Possibilities of Prison Higher Education
Jill McCorkel, Robert DeFina

In 2016, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, an Experimental Sites Initiative that provides funding to eligible people in state and federal prisons as they pursue undergraduate coursework during the period of their incarceration. The administration justified the restoration of education programs in prison in terms of recidivism rates, citing research demonstrating that educational attainment decreases the odds that a person is reincarcerated for new crimes or parole violations following their release. While recidivism is a desired outcome from the restoration of higher education in prison, it is not and should not be the only one. We argue that a focus limited to recidivism obscures the relationship between education and democracy and diminishes the radical possibilities of higher education for fostering peaceful and just communities. In this essay we highlight some of our experiences as faculty and administrators of Villanova University’s undergraduate degree program at State Correctional Institution—Graterford to illustrate how the benefits of higher education can extend beyond market participation to include community building, expansion of social capital, and political action.

March 1, 2019
Philosophical Implications of Taxpayer Funding for Prison Education
Jason Harnish

Since the mid-1990s, funding prisons has been a challenge. Arguments at the time suggested that investing in higher education for people in prison was unfair. The issue of fairness and funding has by no means gone away. This article explores the question is it fair to spend U.S. tax revenue on higher education programs in prison. In order to address the question, three philosophical lenses are used to clarify the issue of fairness. Through a utilitarian perspective, a Deweyan pragmatist perspective, and a relational ethic of care, I argue that spending tax revenue on higher education programs in prison is fair. The article concludes by providing examples of higher education programs in prison that represent ethical caring and educational opportunity in the present political and economic context.

February 1, 2019
The Art of Liberating Humanity
Brandyn Heppard

This essay engages the question of higher education in prisons through the lens of abolitionist prison reform, and further, within a larger revolutionary framework. Drawing heavily on Herbert Marcuse’s essay, On Liberation (1969), and inspired by tradition of radical pedagogy- and the likes of Paolo Freire and bell hooks- this essay undertakes the prison classroom as a space of resistance with radical potential. Accordingly, the essay makes a case for offering incarcerated students a liberal arts curriculum, particularly strong in the humanities, because of its revolutionary potential, premised on its accessibility, aesthetic sensibility, and the exercise of the imagination.

January 1, 2019
A Re-imagining of Evaluation as Social Justice: A Discussion of the Education Justice Project
Ayesha Boyce

The author of this paper argues that program evaluation can and should embody the values of a more just society. Therefore, evaluations conducted within the higher education in prison context should be positioned as a social, cultural, and political force to address issues of inequity, while still maintaining methodological standards and rigor. Advocacy, relationship development, inclusion of underrepresented voices, and stakeholder education are presented as tools to engage robust evaluation designs to achieve evaluation with a social justice goal. The Education Justice Project, a model college in prison program for men incarcerated at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois, and its evaluation, serves as a case example. In addition to an overview of the program and evaluation process, a vignette is also utilized to reflect upon and illustrate what an evaluation with a social justice focus looks like. The paper concludes with a clarion call for those working within the prison context to demand evaluations that have parallel epistemologies and goals to the important purposes of the work of higher education within prison.

December 1, 2018
Reducing Recidivism via College-in-Prison: Thoughts on Data Collection, Methodology, and the Question of Purpose
Rob Scott

It is often reported that college programs in prison reduce recidivism, but these claims are rarely made rigorously. This paper proposes a method of data collection for college-in-prison programs in the United States that are interested in measuring program outcomes such as recidivism, but also much more. The method involves combining information from prison and parole databases on the internet with educational data from college-in-prison programs. One can then analyze this combined data to detect correlation (if not causation) between educational levels and recidivism rates. Still, the data collected using these methods will not be sufficient to make predictive claims because college-in-prison programs do not operate as controlled experiments—the student population is not randomly selected and, moreover, student experiences of college and prison are not uniform treatments. This raises the question of purpose: if college-in-prison programs cannot empirically prove that college reduces recidivism, then why would they be interested in a method for carefully monitoring recidivism in the first place? The author suggests that programs may wish to track recidivism out of concern for alumni welfare.

November 1, 2018
Racism, the Language of Reduced Recidivism, Higher Education in Prison: Toward anti-racist praxis
Erin L. Castro

This essay examines contemporary discourse alongside increased public interest regarding the provision of higher education for incarcerated people. Recidivism as the sole or dominant desired outcome of higher education in the specific context of prison demands a particular kind of intervention, and in a society where Black, African American, and Latinxs are overly targeted for incarceration, rationales of reduced recidivism are disproportionately mapped onto bodies of Color. My gesture in this essay is that the language of reduced recidivism contributes to state violence that is disproportionately enacted against people of Color. I believe that directors, instructors, students, and supporters of college-in-prison programs have an opportunity to thoughtfully expand the reasons for higher education, reasons that are firmly rooted in anti-racism and recognize reduced recidivism as an important, but insufficient sole justification for quality higher education in prison.

October 1, 2018
Caught Somewhere Between
James Davis III

In this paper the author emphasizes the intersection of incarceration and higher learning, and its effects on identity. I focus specifically on my experience as a black man pursuing higher education while incarcerated, and how education impacts the ways in which I see the worlds that I inhabit as a black man and as a black prisoner. I explore how philosophy and fictionalized writings have contributed to the transformative experience that education constitutes for me, and I use the oppositional positioning of love and hate as the lens through which I premise my observations.

September 1, 2018
Promoting Informed Citizenship through Prison-based Education
Abena Subira Mackall

There are two dominant frames that emerge in the political discourse regarding whether or not public funds should be invested in educating incarcerated adults in the United States. The first discusses prison-based education in terms of its instrumental utility as a crime control technique within cost-effective analyses. In the second, education in prisons is described as being either good or bad for moral reasons. In this essay, I argue for a third frame in which the merit of prison education programs is determined based on whether or not such programs advance democratic values. I hold that this is particularly important, because the current era of mass incarceration has brought about several threats to the civic well-being of American society, and thus to the legitimacy and stability of the democracy. I then use practitioner and student accounts of prison-based educational programs to illustrate that classrooms can function as unique spaces within prisons to promote informed citizenship. I conclude with two modest recommendations to further expand the civic capacities of incarcerated men and women, within the existing structure of US prisons.

August 1, 2018
The Elevating Connection of Higher Education in Prison: An Incarcerated Student’s Perspective
David Evans

The author of this paper has lived in Georgia prisons for over ten years and has benefited from higher educational programs while incarcerated. He draws from limited Internet access behind a firewall, personal interviews with other incarcerated students, and personal experience. This essay intends to convey postsecondary education’s benefits for incarcerated citizens. It explores higher education’s ability to shift the perspectives of its incarcerated students, aid in their personal development, and prepare them for their futures whether in or out of prison. The primary purpose of higher education in prison should not be to reduce recidivism, although that may be a welcomed side effect; it should be to elevate the incarcerated students. College-in-prison programming not only elevates the students, it elevates society as well by creating a criminal justice paradigm that more accurately reflects our society’s love of freedom. This essay also explores limited Internet access in prison as a means to facilitate higher education.

July 1, 2018
Introduction to volume: What is Higher Education in Prison?
Erin L. Castro & Mary Rachel Gould

For far too long, “correctional education” has served as an umbrella framework for all educational opportunities offered inside prisons and jails throughout the United States. In community with students, scholars, and practitioners, we wish to engage and highlight scholarship on higher education in prison in much the same way we theorize higher education in society more broadly, by focusing on the purposes for why we should engage this work. The authors in this volume pose a direct challenge to the notion that higher education on non-carceral campuses and higher education in prisons should be guided by significantly different philosophies of higher education and in this Introduction, we outline the philosophies of education that should guide higher education in prison.


Featured image: Lemos de Brito penitenciary, September 29, 2009. Photograph by Apps for Good / Flickr