Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College
The Tufts University Prison Initiative of the Tisch College of Civic Life (TUPIT) brings Tufts faculty and students together with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, corrections staff, educators, and scholars of criminal justice to facilitate creative and collaborative responses to the problems of mass incarceration. Extending the vision of Tufts University and Tisch College, TUPIT is dedicated to providing transformative educational experiences that foster students’ and faculty members’ capacities to become active citizens of change in the world.
Acting on its foundational belief in the necessity of equitable access to higher education, TUPIT directs two programs inside Massachusetts’s prisons:
- Degree Program: TUPIT offers Tufts University courses taught by Tufts faculty members in prison. Through our partnership with Bunker Hill Community College, people admitted to our college in prison have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree in the liberal arts after 3 ½ years of successful coursework.
- Inside-Out Program: Tufts Inside-Out classes foster learning partnerships between incarcerated people and Tufts students and faculty members through combined courses inside correctional facilities.
TUPIT is generously supported by the Cummings Foundation.
- Founding Director: Hilary Binda
- Government Relations Committee: Akiyo Fujii, Rocco DiRico
- Executive Committee: Faculty members and administrators from Tufts University and Bunker Hill Community College
- Faculty Advisory Committee: Liz Ammons, Bridget Conley, Heather Curtis, Kim Dong, Kevin Dunn, Susan Ernst, Daanika Gordon, Eulogio Guzman, Kirby Johnson, Erin Kelly, Kareem Khubchandani, John Lurz, Jamie Maguire, Alecia McGregor, Heather Nathans, Mindy Neirenberg, Fernando Ona, Stephan Pennington, Carolyn Rubin, Diane Ryan, Chris Swan, Jill Weinberg, Chantak Zakari
- Tufts Education and Employment Pathways Program: Guy Armand, Arthur Bembury, Lori Catallozzi, Julien Carter, Nuri Chandler-Smith, Carmen Lowe
- Program Assessment Committee: Hilary Binda, Kim Dong, Carolyn Rubin, Jill Weinberg
TUPIT also works in collaboration with an advisory board currently in its formative stages. It will be composed of incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and non-incarcerated individuals with knowledge of and/or experience with the criminal justice system and with a commitment to facilitating institutional and individual change.
TUPIT in the News
In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, TUPIT provides college courses at MCI-Concord accredited by Tufts and Bunker Hill Community College toward an associate’s degree in liberal arts. Bunker Hill will issue the degree to those students who successfully complete the 23-course program over the course of 3 ½ years.
Students began in their first semester by taking the foundational writing and math courses, English 1 and Math 10, and then take one course every summer and three courses each semester for three years. Additional courses include: Introduction to Philosophy; International Law and Civil Society; Introduction to Biology; Critical Perspectives of the Americas: Latin American Art and History; Health and Human Rights; Religion, Race, and American Nationalism; Drawing, General Introduction to English Literature; History of African American Music; Performing American, Exploring Identity; Environmental Justice and World Literature; Self-Publishing an Artist’s Book; Sociology of Law; Introduction to Genetics; Sociology of Race and Ethnicity; Poetry; Nutrition Science; The Bible as Literature; and a capstone project course.
Academic support and resources include:
- Tufts provides course materials for our students, including books, course readers, textbooks, composition notebooks, legal pads, pens and pencils.
- The Tisch Library at Tufts University has partnered with TUPIT in a variety of ways. Library staff have visited the prison and developed a program for contributing books to the prison libraries in collaboration with facility administrators.
- Tufts undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students trained through the Petey Greene program serve as tutors and teaching assistants in all of the Tufts courses offered in prison. Every week, all students are required to attend a 2 ¾-hour tutorial session with the TAs for each class, doubling their time in class.
- TUPIT works in close collaboration with Partakers, a mentoring organization that pairs incarcerated students with teams of 3 or 4 community volunteers interested in supporting incarcerated people through regular visits and conversation about a student’s educational experience during their time in college in prison and, potentially, also afterwards.
Tufts and Bunker Hill Community College ran a selective admissions process that would meet the criteria for both schools for our current cohort of 25 students at MCI-Concord. Applicants wrote letters of applications and took English and math tests that were designed collaboratively by faculty from both schools. The top candidates were then interviewed by a faculty and administrative team before the section of 25 students. All 25 students met the criteria for entering an associate’s degree program in the liberal arts, and all students demonstrated the capacity to succeed in Tufts University courses that fulfill the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree.
All Tufts faculty members from each of the different schools of the university and all Bunker Hill Community College faculty members interested in learning more about teaching in prison are invited to contact TUPIT and discuss possibilities for the future. Faculty members from Tufts’ professional schools are especially encouraged to propose courses that may be adapted in consultation with TUPIT for the undergraduate incarcerated population. Courses are selected based on program needs and faculty availability and interests. Faculty who teach in this program receive a stipend and are responsible for traveling to and from the prison weekly. Faculty are also required to attend a faculty orientation through TUPIT and another led by the Department of Correction staff at the facility.
Our TUPIT faculty members currently include the following Tufts full-time, primarily tenure-track faculty members from the School of Arts and Sciences, the Tufts School of Medicine, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts: Liz Ammons, Hilary Binda, Heather Curtis, Kim Dong, Kevin Dunn, Susan Ernst, Daanika Gordon, Eulogio Guzman, Kirby Johnson, Erin Kelly, Karim Khubchandani, John Lurz, Heather Nathans, Fernando Ona, Stephan Pennington, Modhumita Roy, Kim Ruane, Jill Weinberg, and Chantal Zakari. In addition, there are several co-teaching faculty members from Bunker Hill Community College.
Tufts University has offered a credit-bearing course for incarcerated people and non-incarcerated Tufts students at MCI-Shirley, Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, and MCI-Concord. Inside-Out™ courses are taught by faculty members trained through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program to lead “courses that allow participants to encounter each other as equals, often across profound social barriers.” The practice of bringing inside and outside students together for “engaged and informed dialogue allows for transformative learning experiences that invite participants to take leadership in addressing crime, justice, and other issues of social concern.” This course is open to Tufts undergraduate and graduate students and requires faculty permission.
The Literature of Confinement
The Literature of Confinement will be run as an Inside-Out™ class composed of Tufts (“outside”) students and incarcerated (“inside”) students in equal numbers. All students who pass the class will earn credit. Together we will ask: How have writers from different historical periods, regions, cultures, and genders understood experiences of confinement and freedom? How is confinement imposed and overcome—and by whom? Together, incarcerated and non-incarcerated students will read, discuss, and write on literary texts pertaining to the experience of confinement understood in many different senses: economic, educational, legal, physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social. This class provides an opportunity to develop skills in close reading skills, including attentiveness and creativity in the interpretive act. As we read, we will ask what constitutes a confining circumstance and what can we learn from this about violence, justice, and the human capacity for transformation? Through structured small- and large-discussion groups and regular written work, students will analyze a variety of literary texts that engage various discourses of identity and difference, including race, culture, economic class, and gender-sexuality. A weekly focus on experiential learning across cultural, social, and literal barriers, in addition to the regular practice of self-reflection, will enable all students to develop qualitative knowledge about power and imagination in the face of both social injustice and civic responsibility. This course aims to facilitate not only expanded literacy, widely defined, but also learning about deep differences while enabling identification and fostering understanding between people through shared acts of interpretation and imagination. Be prepared to engage with others in the class in open discussions and active debates and in exercises that require full participation. Bring an open mind, enthusiasm about reading, enthusiasm about writing and rewriting, excitement about learning from, with, and about others, and a willingness to reflect on your own experiences at every stage.
Many studies have shown that completing college programming while in prison is nothing short of a game changer. College teaches more than facts; in addition to increasing the likelihood of individuals’ basic survival, participating in college classes encourages the development of self-esteem, empathy, curiosity, and the critical skills of collaboration that are the foundation of civic leadership. The National Institute of Justice reports that more than 75% of people currently released from state prisons are reincarcerated within five years. Studies have shown, however, that colleg-in-prison programming has been vital for the survival and success of incarcerated individuals and their communities. A 2013 report from the RAND Corporation found that any formal education in prison reduces recidivism by at least 43%. This study also found that the likelihood of employment post-release was 13% higher for those who had any education while serving time. Studies that focus on the impact of college education (versus high school or vocational education) have consistently found that the recidivism rate for these individuals drops below 10% and that for those who earn a college degree, the rate at which people return to prison is somewhere between 0-2%. The study, entitled "Changing Minds: the Impact of College in a Maximum Security Prison” additionally found that college in prison programs save taxpayer dollars and reduce the costs and burdens of prison management for state departments of correction by reducing violence in prison.
With support from a Tufts Collaborates grant, faculty members Hilary Binda, Kim Dong, Carolyn Rubin, and Jill Weinberg are working with formerly incarcerated people primarily from New York and New England who have college-in-prison experience in order to learn how they made sense of these post-secondary educational experiences while in prison and after release. Gaining the perspective of those with experience in programs like ours enables us to more effectively understand, envision, and build college programming that improves and enriches the experiences of incarcerated and non-incarcerated students participating in Tufts-in-prison programming.
The Tufts Prison Initiative of Tisch College works in partnership with local and national networks of individuals, groups, and organizations working to improve the system of criminal justice through access to education:
- Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individual scholars and activists
- MA Department of Corrections
- Bunker Hill Community College
- Petey Greene Program
- Concord Prison Outreach
- Inside-Out Prison Exchange
- Educational Justice Initiative at MIT & Massachusetts Prison Education Consortium (MPEC)
We remain grateful for the early and essential help we received from the following local and national leaders in prison education:
- Robert Scott, Cornell Prison Education Program
- Jody Lewen, Prison University Project
- Carole Cafferty, MIT
- Ed Wiltse, The Jail Project at Nazareth College
- Walter Fortson, Prison Bridge Program
- Bob Cadigan and Jim Matesanz, Boston University Prison Education Program
- Jean Trounstine, Changing Lives through Literature
- Jenifer Drew of Stone Associates, Lasalle College
- And from the MA Department of Correction: Jamie Camacho, Brian Hogan, Kristyn Camilleri, John Afonso, Mary Haynes, Megan Crowley, Talene Barr, and Dennis O’Neil