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Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College

Prison Initiative Director Hillary Binda leading a class inside the prison

Overview | Leadership Team | Degree Program | MyTern ProgramInside-Out Program
Why College In, Before, and After Prison? | Supporters


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 programs inside Massachusetts’s prisons:

  1. 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 years of      successful coursework. Learn More
  2. MyTERN Tufts Educational Re-entry Network Program: Tufts offers an accredited 4-course certification program on the Boston campus for people directly impacted by the carceral system.
    Learn More
  3. 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.
    Learn More
  4. BEGINNING 2021: Short-term facility courses in jail/house of correction that parallel MyTERN, enabling a seamless transition from incarceration to higher education
  5. BEGINNING 2021: Emerging Adults Program: 17- to 22-year-olds in state custody or in a diversionary program join students from Tufts and Brandeis for accredited courses on campus and eventually in DYS facilities.

Logo of the Cummings Foundation 100k for 100 initiativeTUPIT is generously supported by the Cummings Foundation.

Leadership Team

With support from Tisch College and the OVPR at Tufts, faculty members Hilary Binda, Carolyn Rubin, and Jill Weinberg, with student Nora Maetzener, completed a study with people who did college programming while in prison which provided the basis of TUPIT’s early program development and is now published in the Journal for Prison Education and Re-entry. Gaining the perspective of those with experience of incarceration and those with experience in programs like ours continues to be critical. All program assessment and development is done in collaboration with and through the leadership of people directly impacted by the carceral system. 

  • Founding Director: Hilary Binda
  • University Government Relations Committee: Akiyo Fujii, Rocco DiRico
  • Executive Committee: Bridget Conley, Kim Dong, Kirby Johnson, Erin Kelly, John Lurz, Kim Ruane, Jill Weinberg
  • 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, Peter Levine, John Lurz, Jamie Maguire, Alecia McGregor, Heather Nathans, Fernando Ona, Stephan Pennington, Kim Ruane, Carolyn Rubin, Chris Swan, Jill Weinberg, Chantak Zakari
  • Tufts Education and Re-entry Network (TERN): Current and former TUPIT students and their loved ones; mentor team members; Tufts and Bunker Hill Community College students, faculty, staff; re-entry support community organizations: Partakers College Behind Bars, Boston Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, The Petey Greene Program, Eliot Community Human Services, MassHire, Families for Justice as Healing, Sisters of St. Joseph’s Prison Aftercare, New Beginnings, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation
  • Program Assessment Committee: Hilary Binda, Kim Dong, Daanika Gordon, Carolyn Rubin, Jill Weinberg
  • TUPIT Student Coordinating Committee: Two student directors lead group of undergraduate & graduate students participating as students, TAs, tutors, MyTERN technology instructors, and campus organizers through The Petey Greene Program, Inside-Out, MyTERN courses, and Symposium Planning group.


TUPIT Media Coverage

Degree Program


Tufts students and incarcerated students in the Prison Initiative's Inside-Out courseIn partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, TUPIT provides college courses accredited by Tufts and Bunker Hill Community College toward an associate’s degree in liberal arts. Most courses run at MCI-Concord but the program includes Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Tufts University provides this programming at no cost to students, through the support of the Tisch College of Civic Life and the School of Arts and Sciences.

Associate's Degree in the Liberal Arts: Bunker Hill Community College issues the degree to those students who successfully complete the 23-course program over the course of 3 years.

Bachelor's Degree in Civic Studies: Tufts University will issue the degree to those who complete the additional 2 ½ years of programming inside.

Watch this video to learn more about the degree program

Our Students

Twenty-six students were selected through an admissions process run by Tufts and Bunker Hill Community College for the program at MCI-Concord. Applicants wrote letters, took diagnostic English and math tests designed collaboratively by faculty from both schools. Top candidates were interviewed by a faculty and administrative team. All 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.

Our Faculty

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 multiple faculty orientations through TUPIT and the Department of Correction.

Tufts Education and Re-entry Network Program: MyTERN

The Tufts Education Reentry Network (TERN) program serves as a pathway to continued higher education and meaningful employment post-incarceration. By providing education and mentorship by and to those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, MyTERN combines Civic Studies courses in higher learning with community involvement through our broad network of partner organizations.  This Tufts-accredited, 4-course certification program is designed by and for people who are directly impacted by the carceral system. It includes a humanities focus throughout, complemented by intensive computer training and professional development. Learn more about MyTERN: 2020 video.

Inside-Out Program

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, begins admissions before registration the previous semester, and requires faculty permission. Tufts University has offered this credit-bearing course for incarcerated people and non-incarcerated Tufts students at MCI-Shirley, Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, and MCI-Concord, and looks forward to beginning at Suffolk County facilities soon. 

Watch a 2018 video made by Tufts Inside-Out students and learn more about the course, which was included in a list of the 17 most innovative courses of 2019-2020, below.

TCS 145WGSS 185AMER 94

The Literature of Confinement

Instructor: Hilary Binda, Senior Lecturer in Visual and Critical Studies and Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

This interdisciplinary literature, history, and sociology course asks how have writers from different historical periods, regions, cultures, and genders understood experiences of confinement and freedom? What are some of the effects on human beings of different kinds of confinement – economic, educational, legal, physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social? The Literature of Confinement will be run as an Inside-Out class composed of Tufts (“outside”) students and incarcerated (“inside”) students in equal numbers. Together, we will read, discuss, and write on literary texts pertaining to the experience of confinement – understood in many different senses. Through small and large group discussion and weekly written work, students will analyze a variety of literary texts that engage 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 close reading, critical analysis, and 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. Toward the end of the term, inside and outside students will work together to complete interdisciplinary project-based work of the group’s invention and design, very likely in the form of a class book. 

This course requires completing an application. Please contact Prof. Binda for more information.

Emerging Adults Program

In partnership with the Brandeis Justice Initiative, TUPIT is offering an interdisciplinary humanities course on-campus for 17- to 23-year-olds in diversionary programs. This course includes Tufts undergraduates as well.

Why College In, After, and Before Prison?

Many studies have shown that completing college programming while in prison is nothing short of a game changer. 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 college-in-prison programming has been vital for increasing the health and well-being 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% - and increases employment by 13%. 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.

Scholars and policy makers have identified multiple challenges faced by people post-incarceration, including lack of employment and educational opportunities, psychological trauma, poverty, and the lack of confidence from the status of having been incarcerated. Nearly two-thirds of people released from state prisons are re-arrested and nearly half return to prison within three years of release, either for violations of parole conditions or for being prosecuted for new crimes (Durose et al. 2014). Scholars and policy makers identify potential challenges to successful re-entry: barriers to employment and the lack of a high school degree or equivalent; substance abuse and mental illness (Petersilia 2003; James and Glaze 2016); the return to communities typically characterized by high rates of poverty (Travis & Petersilia 2001); and the feeling of stigma and demoralization resulting from the status of having been incarcerated. Re-entry programs, therefore, must address these obstacles holistically, offering educational opportunities while attending to and supporting individual well-being through partnerships with skilled re-entry service providers like those who participate in the Tufts Education and Re-entry Network.

Speakers at a February 2018 symposium on prison education

We remain grateful for the early and essential help we received from the following local and national leaders in prison education:

  • Bob Cadigan, Boston University Prison Education Program
  • Carole Cafferty, MIT Educational Justice Initiative
  • Jenifer Drew, Stone Associates & Lasalle College
  • Jody Lewen, Prison University Project
  • Jim Matesanz, Boston University Prison Education Program
  • Lee Pearlman,  MIT Educational Justice Initiative
  • Robert Scott, Cornell Prison Education Program
  • Jean Trounstine, Changing Lives through Literature
  • Ed Wiltse, The Jail Project at Nazareth College
  • From the MA Department of Correction:  Jamie Camacho, Brian Hogan, Lynn Lareau, Sheila John Afonso, Mary Haynes, Megan Crowley, Talene Bare, and Dennis O’Neil

Support the Initiative

Help make TUPIT a sustainable program that provides incarcerated people in Massachusetts with transformative educational experiences.
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