Why Prison Education Matters

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 251 (University of Glasgow)
Geraldine Downey , Psychology, Columbia University
This paper examines the importance of education for people who are incarcerated in the United States, exploring how adapting a student identity might combat the social marginalization that results from spending time in prison.  While the student identity centers on hope and the possibility for an improved future, the criminal identity focuses on history, that is, an individual’s past mistakes, failures, and limitations, and is rooted in fear and exclusion. Adopting a student identity can have a substantive and positive impact on people in prison. Education in prison gives students agency and empowers them by affirming their belief in themselves and provides skills necessary for securing jobs upon release. This paper will specifically focus on the experience of teaching undergraduate courses in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women.  The paper will also explore the recent movement to reconsider the importance of prison education in the United States – most significantly, the re-institution of Pell Grants for college programming – asking how increased educational opportunity in prisons might reduce the reliance on mass incarceration in the United States.