The COVID-19 pandemic shook the prison education community and interrupted in-person programming. This crisis revealed the persistence, resiliency, and vulnerability of the field of higher education, which is essential to the struggle to create learning opportunities in a prison setting. By design, prisons are not structured to facilitate interaction, community building, or the free exchange of ideas, but rather to punish and isolate. Despite this, community efforts have created opportunities for higher learning that have shifted culture and attitudes inside and outside of prison, empowered students to become dedicated learners and teachers, and created pathways for incarcerated individuals to be resources to their various communities.
The struggle of prison education, the need for public support, and the careful protection of existing programs have been central to the liberation work of college in prison programs. A strong foundation in grassroots organizing has sustained prison higher education programs despite public opposition to this work, changes to public funding opportunities, shifting political agendas, and now a global pandemic. With a rich and diverse history of college programming in prisons throughout the state, the New York community of college stakeholders continue to find meaningful ways to protect college in prison programs and reach students. For these reasons, this conference aims to facilitate discussion, inspire collaboration, and celebrate the NY and greater prison higher- ed community, by creating space for the exploration of a variety of questions. Topics include but are not limited to:
- Why is in-person instruction critical for community building in prison? What are the ways higher education facilitates community building in the prison setting?
- What can and should the larger higher-ed field learn from prison pedagogy?
- What does student empowerment look like in prison pedagogy?
- How does higher education help empower students and the broader community to recognize that justice involved individuals are resources to the communities they are returning to?
- What impact does pedagogy and higher education in prison have on re-entry preparation, transition to the outside campus, employment marketability, and re-entry support for justice impacted individuals?
COVID-19 and Technology
- How has COVID-19 further illuminated the disparities of the prison learning environment? Can remote learning become a viable alternative to in-person pedagogy in higher prison education during the current climate of COVID-19 until in-person learning can be reinstated? Are there dangers of COVID-19 Higher Education measures permanently altering pedagogy in and outside prisons?
- In the growing digital age of education, what can we do to prepare students to enter the 21st century classroom and protect our ability to deliver in-person instruction? How do we navigate the significant learning disparities?
Building Support for College-in-Prison Programs
- What can outside campuses do to support higher education in prison programs by engaging main campus students, college leadership, and using their positionality to advocate and protect college in prison programs?
- How will the potential return of public funding impact the field of higher education in prison? What opportunities might it create? How can we prepare for the challenges?
The Conference Steering Committee seeks submissions of 250-400 word abstracts by Monday, February 15, 2021. Proposed contributions can be presentations, papers, creative works, panels or workshops. Presentations should be planned to run for 15-20 minutes, and panels an hour with an additional 15 minutes for Q&A.