Program Highlight #3: The Rhodes College Liberal Arts in Prison Program

The Rhodes College Liberal Arts in Prison Program was launched in 2016 at the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center (WTRC), a 1200-bed state facility in Henning, TN. Between 2016 and 2019 Rhodes offered a Great Books Reading Group at WTRC which brought Rhodes professors to the prison in two-week stints to teach texts of their choice. In 2019 Rhodes began offering a for-credit certificate program called “Culture & Values” that was modeled on the “Search for Values” that has been a signature feature of the Rhodes curriculum since 1946.

At WTRC, the 4-course “Culture & Values” sequence begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh (a Sumerian poem from the 3rd millennium BCE) and ends with 20th century texts from authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Elie Wiesel and Toni Morrison. Highlights of the two-year program include works by Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Plato, Vergil, Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Luther, Machiavelli, Milton, Adam Smith, Mary Shelley, and Frederick Douglass.” Culture & Values” is team-taught by Rhodes professors who have expertise in teaching them and have often made them subjects of their scholarly work. The first cohort of 5 graduates received their certificates in 2021; a second cohort of 7 graduates finished in 2022.

Since 2019 the Rhodes Liberal Arts in Prison Program has involved on-campus undergraduates as tutors, with between 10 and 20 students active in a given semester. Many of these students volunteer while taking a course titled “Mass Incarceration: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives,” which prepares them for visiting the prison and aids them in interpreting their experiences with our incarcerated students.

During the summer of 2022 Rhodes offered an elective course for graduates of the Culture & Values program, a 5-week intensive class on the Holocaust with Prof. Stephen Haynes, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program. Rhodes plans to continue to expand its offerings at WTRC going forward. Since the beginning, the success of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program has been made possible with the support of prison and corrections staff, especially Dr. Damien Hodge, Post-Secondary Education Liaison for TDOC, and Dr. Heather Bonds, Principal at WTRC.

Mapping HEP Resources in North Carolina

As in many other states, HEP providers in North Carolina are currently working to organize their efforts at the statewide level. HEP leaders at several NC institutions, in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, recently founded the North Carolina Prison Education Consortium (NCPEC), an organization dedicated to sharing HEP resources and promoting best practices for HEP providers across the state.

In late 2021, NCPEC was delighted to receive funding from the Laughing Gull Foundation to support its organizational development. Laughing Gull’s funds support the first-ever in-person meetings of NCPEC in the spring and fall of 2022. These funds also support three student interns from the University of North Carolina and UNC Asheville who have spent the past few months mapping HEP resources across the state.

Together, Zoe Conner, Juliana Mehrer, and Hannah Stuit have used GIS software and data collected from numerous institutions to produce an interactive map featuring state-run carceral institutions, two- and four-year institutions offering HEP programming, local reentry councils, and other HEP-related resources. The hope is that this map will make clear existing geographic and programmatic connections between distinct institutions, enabling those institutions to coordinate their offerings and share their resources. The map may also suggest potential new collaborations and indicate areas where additional programming would benefit currently and formerly incarcerated learners. For example, the map might help a student working through a certification program at a two-year college find an ideal “sequel” through a program offered at a four-year college elsewhere in the state.

Similar mapping efforts are underway in other states represented by the Southern HEP Collective, including Georgia and Mississippi. SHEPC plans to offer a half-day workshop on developing these tools. Please subscribe to the SHEPC Google Group to keep up-to-date on these efforts, and write to Patrick Bahls, Director of UNC Asheville’s Prison Education Program, at pbahls@unca.edu to learn more about resource mapping in NC.

Introducing the Southern Collective’s HEP Lexicon

The Southern Higher Education in Prison Collective blog will feature regular posts highlighting key terms in HEP work, writing by guest bloggers, and stories about member organizations and their work. Our first post addresses some of the most important phrases folks working in higher education in prison may want to know.

Note: more important terms, phrases, and acronyms can be found on the Southern Collective’s static lexicon.

Introduction

The world of higher education and the world of criminal justice are both a bit byzantine, each with its own acronyms, organizations, and jargon. This is especially true in the spaces where these two worlds intersect. While there are many challenges to higher education in prison, it is not impossible, and learning some of the common terms and jargon can make it even easier. For this reason, we have put together this lexicon for higher education in prison. The following is a collection of terms, phrases, organizations, and acronyms that you will likely encounter as you navigate education within the criminal justice system.

Key Terms and Phrases:

  • Ban the Box: A movement to remove questions about criminal history from job and school applications.
  • Carceral System: A comprehensive network of systems that rely, at least in part, on the exercise of state sanctioned physical, emotional, spatial, economic and political violence to preserve the interests of the state.
  • Good time: Credit based, early release from prison or jail, also referred to as gain time, sentence remission, or time off for good behavior. Participation in educational programs can help someone earn good time, but people might not have access to this benefit depending on their sentence or the state in which they are incarcerated. 
  • Incentive pay: Wages incarcerated people earn for their work inside of prison. This pay is often less than a dollar per hour, meaning incarcerated people do not make enough to take care of themselves in prison. Still, these wages can compete with educational goals, as incarcerated people choose between paid jobs and attending classes that offer no wages at all. There are some states where incarcerated people are not paid at all for their labor. 
  • Landscape study: A survey conducted by the Alliance of Higher Education in Prison to collect descriptive information about all higher education in prison programs in the country, including the type of program, number and demographics of students, technology access, and other characteristics. The 2019-2020 report can be found here
  • System Impacted Individual: Refers to those who have been incarcerated or detained in a prison, immigration detention center, local jail, juvenile detention center, or any other carceral setting, those who have been convicted but not incarcerated, those who have been charged but not convicted, and those who have been arrested.
  • Neg Reg: Negotiated rulemaking committee hosted by the U.S. Department of Education to determine what the full restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated students will look like. Formerly incarcerated people and program administrators offered input as to how full restoration should be implemented. 
  • Pardon: An exemption from punishment, usually made through the use of executive power
  • Parole: The negotiated release of a prisoner temporarily for a special purpose or permanently before the completion of a sentence, on the promise of good behavior.
  • People-centered language: Also referred to as person-first or humanizing language, this refers to the act of  intentionally referring to an individual as a person rather than as a label. An example of this would be “person who is incarcerated” rather than “inmate.” 
  • Probation: The release of an offender from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.
  • RAND Study: RAND (Research and Development) Corporation is a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis with the goal of improving policy and decision making. RAND’s 2013 study, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education,” found that education reduces recidivism and is often cited in support of higher education in prison. 
  • Recidivism: When a person returns to prison, either for a technical violation or a new charge. A technical violation involves not meeting a requirement of parole or probation, such as missing a curfew or losing a job. Recidivism is a controversial measure of program effectiveness given the fact that the many barriers formerly incarcerated people face upon release make it extremely difficult to live up to all the requirements of release. 
  • Securus: A private company that contracts with correctional facilities to allow incarcerated individuals to have phone calls or video chats with individuals outside of the facility. These phone calls and chats are prohibitively expensive and often cost incarcerated people and their loved ones hundreds dollars a month.  
  • Transfer hold: An agreement between higher education in prison programs and particular prisons and or departments of corrections/public safety/justice to refrain from transferring college students for the duration of the semester and/or the entirety of the college program in question. 

Coming soon: on March 15, we will highlight the work of member organization THEI: Tennessee Higher Education in Prison Initiative!