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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College

MCI Shirley


The Tufts University Prison Initiative at the Tisch College of Civic Life (TUPIT) brings Tufts students and faculty together with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, correctional staff, activists, educators, and scholars of criminal justice reform 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 education, TUPIT engages students and faculty members throughout Tufts University in collaboration with justice-involved individuals to support collective educational endeavors. Creating opportunities for hands-on learning about structural inequalities in the criminal justice system and prisons, TUPIT provides Tufts communities with an opportunity to grow through collaborative learning with people in prison. By offering Tufts courses in prison, TUPIT also contributes significantly to the learning opportunities for incarcerated people and thus to the well-documented reduction in recidivism rates for those with access to education while in prison. Other initiative goals include cultivating—inside and outside of prison—awareness of the transformative value of a liberal arts education for people doing time and fostering learning partnerships between incarcerated people and Tufts students and faculty members.

TUPIT has received seed grants from the Tufts University Office of the Provost and the Tisch College of Civic Life to support a three-year pilot program including research and educational programming with the goal of long-term sustainability.

Our Team

  • Hilary Binda, Founding Director of Educational Programming; Principal Investigator of Research
  • Carolyn Rubin, Primary Collaborator for Educational Programming; Co-PI of Research
  • Jill Weinberg, Primary Collaborator for Educational Programming; Co-PI of Research
  • Amanda Borquaye, Student Primary Collaborator for Educational Programming; Research Assistant

TUPIT also works in collaboration with an advisory board currently in its formative stages and 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

Educational Program


Prison LibraryTUPIT aims to create a positive impact on individuals involved in the criminal justice system primarily, but not exclusively, by offering courses in Massachusetts correctional facilities for college credit. In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, TUPIT offers courses taught by Tufts faculty members to incarcerated men and women. Through its partnership with the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Shirley, a men’s medium security facility, TUPIT currently offers an Inside-Out™ course for college credit to a group composed of incarcerated students and Tufts undergraduates who will attend class together at the prison each week. In Spring 2018, this same course will run at Souza-Baranowski, the maximum security facility in Shirley. Also this Spring, interested Tufts faculty will offer a not-for-credit weekly lecture series at Shirley medium. During the next two years, with the goal of making the initiative permanent, TUPIT will begin offering two or three courses per term in a variety of fields and disciplines to incarcerated students who qualify for admission.

TUPIT also works in collaboration with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office and educational staff of the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction, where we offer an ongoing high school equivalency (HiSet) preparation class for members of the sentenced population who will be released within two years and for members of the pre-trial population who, once sentenced, may have the opportunity to continue their education in a state prison where pursuing college courses is an option. The creation of a Tufts Prison Initiative adds to the impressive work of the Tufts School of Medicine’s Phoenix Project, a student-originated and student-run workshop series in which medical students provide weekly health workshops for incarcerated people at the South Bay House of Correction covering a wide range of social and health topics, from substance abuse and addiction to maintaining healthy relationships.

The Course

Tufts University now offers a credit-bearing Inside-Out™ course for incarcerated (inside) and non-incarcerated (outside) Tufts students at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Shirley. 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.”

TCS 145-01WGSS 185-06VISC 145-01

Mass Incarceration & The Literature of Confinement

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

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 (for example, Frederick Douglass, Henrik Ibsen, James Joyce, Lorraine Hansberry, Suzan-Lori Parks) 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? Together, we will read, discuss, and write on literary texts directly and indirectly pertaining to the experience of confinement – understood in many different senses. What constitutes a confining circumstance? How is confinement imposed and by whom? How do these texts help us understand various forms of resistance? Through analyses of a variety of different literary works, students will study various discourses of identity and difference, including race, culture, economic class, and gender-sexuality, often in relation to the US criminal justice system. A weekly focus on engaged interactive learning across cultural, social, and literal barriers in addition to the regular practice of self-reflection through journal writing and creative writing assignments will enable students to develop a qualitative knowledge about power and possibilities in the face of social injustice and structural inequalities. This course aims to facilitate expanded literacy, widely defined, as well as learning about deep differences while also enabling the creation of bonds between people through shared acts of interpretation and imagination. At the end of the term, inside and outside students will work together in small groups to complete a project of the groups’ invention and design.

Leroy Ivey

The Students

Incarcerated students enter the program as a cohort through an admissions process designed and administered by Tufts and carried out with the support of the educational staff at MCI Shirley. Beyond requiring a high school diploma or equivalent, admission to the Tufts in prison program asks applicants to submit a short essay and to participate in a brief interview with 2 TUPIT representatives and a member of the prison educational staff. A sustained effort is made to create a cohort that is diverse in race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, age, and personality.

Tufts undergraduate and graduate students may participate in the Tufts Prison Initiative in a variety of ways. They may enroll in the course as outlined above, they may submit an application to serve as one of two Teaching Assistants who work as a team in a course offered in prison for incarcerated students only, or they may participate in the Tufts student chapter of the national student tutoring organization Petey Greene. Through the training and support of Petey Greene, in collaboration with TUPIT, Tufts students have opportunities to support incarcerated students taking Tufts courses by meeting as a group at a designated time each week at MCI Shirley, where they work one-on-one as tutors. Tufts students may also tutor through Petey Greene at other correctional facilities (the Middlesex House of Corrections and the Boston Pre-Release Center).

Tufts Faculty

Any Tufts faculty member interested in teaching in prison is invited to contact TUPIT and propose a course and/or discuss opportunities. Faculty who teach in this program receive a small stipend. Whether or not a course counts toward part of a faculty member’s teaching load depends on the faculty member’s department, department chair, and dean. Courses will be selected based on program needs as these take shape through a Certificate of Liberal Studies currently in its proposal stage.

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.

Academic Support in Prison

Tufts is committed to providing all of its students with access to academic resources and support. In the case of its courses in prison, this support is made available in several ways:

  • The Tisch Library at Tufts University is a primary partner with the Tufts Prison Initiative. It has already contributed in significant ways to building up the library at MCI Shirley and continues to be an active collaborator in supporting TUPIT’s educational program development.
  • In addition to faculty members holding weekly office hours at the prison, Tufts undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students trained through the Petey Greene program will serve as tutors and teaching assistants in the courses offered in prison.
  • TUPIT works in close collaboration with Partakers, a mentoring organization that pairs incarcerated students with teams of 2-5 community volunteers interested in supporting incarcerated people throughout their educational program and beyond.

Prison InitiativeResearch

The Tufts Prison initiative is working on a formative qualitative study of the impact of college in prison on formerly incarcerated people primarily from New York and New England. Tufts faculty members Hilary Binda, Carolyn Rubin, and Jill Weinberg are working with formerly incarcerated people who have college-in-prison experience in order to learn how they have navigated and made sense of their post-secondary educational experiences while in prison and after release. Gaining the perspective of those with experience on the inside enables us to more effectively understand, envision, and build what can improve and enrich the experiences of incarcerated and non-incarcerated students participating in a Tufts-in-prison program.

Partners and Network

The Tufts Prison Initiative at Tisch College of Civic Life works in partnership with local and national networks of individuals, groups, and organizations working on the prison problem:

We are grateful for the essential support we have received from the following local and national leaders in prison education:

  • Daniel Karpowitz, Bard College Prison Initiative
  • Robert Scott and Robert Eap, Cornell Prison Education Program
  • Walter Fortson, Prison Bridge Program
  • Bob Cadigan, Boston University Prison Education Program
  • Ed Wiltse, The Jail Project at Nazareth College
  • Jean Trounstine, Changing Lives through Literature
  • Jenifer Drew of Stone Associates, Lasalle College
Want to learn more or get involved? Click below to receive more information about the initiative and how you can get involved.

Conversation Series

Throughout Spring 2018, the Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College will present a series of conversations at MCI Shirley led by Tufts faculty members in diverse fields who will share their expertise.
The new Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College

Lessons Behind Bars

Through the Tufts Prison Initiative at Tisch College, Tufts students and incarcerated people study literature together and learn from each other.