*Content pulled from proposal materials
This project will serve as the springboard for a new prison education initiative at Coe that builds on strong interest in the carceral system among our students, capitalizes on our strategic geographic location in Cedar Rapids (the administrative home of the Sixth Judicial District of Iowa), and extends the capacity of our popular and growing Social and Criminal Justice program. This project is intended to bolster, connect, and expand on existing efforts on our campus to engage in community-based research and teaching related to the criminal legal system.
The Prison Learning Initiative (PLI) will provide educational experiences for incarcerated learners and high-impact experiential learning opportunities for campus-based students across all areas of the liberal arts. PLI will coordinate opportunities for faculty to work with existing community programs that allow Coe students to learn with and support incarcerated people and returning citizens through community-based research projects, service learning, and volunteer opportunities. PLI will also provide the necessary infrastructure at Coe to begin partnering with the Iowa Department of Corrections to develop educational experiences that bring Coe students and incarcerated learners together for formal and informal learning. PLI will allow Coe to explore the possibility of offering college credit classes for incarcerated learners in the future.
The central goal for PLI is to institutionalize PLI by creating a shared campus home for all of the students and faculty who are working on community-based projects related to the criminal legal system. Our initial focus in PLI will be to give Coe students experience working in professional networks that support community-focused careers; to bring Coe students and incarcerated learners together to learn from each other in a variety of disciplines, to the extent possible under current restrictions in Iowa; to provide high-value, high-engagement events to the larger community; and to cultivate new and existing community partnerships with people and organizations within and/or adjacent to the criminal legal system.
The grant project’s goal is to centralize and regularize activities and partnerships that give Coe students a variety of opportunities to learn from, with, and about incarcerated people, supplementing and enriching our curricular offerings. During the grant year, we will seek to establish activities we will be able to replicate regularly and lay the groundwork for longer-term partnerships with community organizations, building an integrated set of experiences with a sustainable infrastructure.
Activities will include partnering with Exchange for Change which facilitates on-campus and incarcerated learners corresponding about shared course material; campus and community book drives for Midwest Books to Prisoners and volunteer hours at their distribution center in Chicago; student editorial and production roles with the University of Iowa’s Prison Writing Project; a Reentry Simulation; an ArtLinks event with Justice Arts Coalition; and a public speaker event. The project will support Coe student participation in statewide meetings, including the Iowa Human Rights Research Conference and Iowa Summit on Justice & Disparities. We will explore partnering with the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, both in this initial year and on a longer-range basis and will join the Iowa Consortium for Higher Education in Prisons. In addition to hosting a webinar for ACM schools to learn from Coe and each other about these initiatives, Coe’s project team is willing to partner with ACM colleagues on the Reentry Simulation and, for those closer to Chicago, on Midwest Books to Prisoners activities. Finally, we will hold informational and faculty development sessions at Coe.
We will engage in several activities to share the process of developing this initiative, as well as the results of our efforts. These activities will include hosting a webinar for our ACM partner schools to share our successes and challenges with creating PLI; to pool ideas with colleagues at other schools doing related activities; and to offer support for those interested in creating similar programs on their own campuses. Since we will have all of the materials necessary for the Reentry Simulation, we will offer to travel to other ACM campuses to facilitate a simulation and/or teach stakeholders on those campuses how to conduct their own simulations. Finally, it will be important to share what we learn in this first year more broadly and to continue to build our own network of partners and co-practitioners. To this end, the project team will travel to conferences to present findings to academics and practitioners who might be interested in developing similar programs at their home institutions and learn from those currently doing this work. These may include regional conferences such as the Midwest Criminal Justice Association (MCJA) or the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison (NCHEP).
Outcomes and Significance
While PLI seeks to provide coordinated institutional support for learning opportunities specifically around the criminal legal system, we anticipate that the faculty dedicated to PLI will serve as resources for colleagues interested in community-based pedagogies in other areas. If the Urban Field Station initiative receives renewed attention and resources, PLI can work in concert with that project to help Coe faculty incorporate community-based teaching and learning in an ongoing, regularized way. In either case, we aim to foster the momentum that is generated by working in alignment with others and having a team with whom to collaborate and grow.
Coe students, able to participate in multiple activities, can apply and integrate learning across contexts and develop a dossier of related experiences. We know there is strong student interest in the criminal legal system, but these are areas it is difficult for even enterprising students to navigate on their own.
All of the PLI team members have learned a great deal about the carceral system from collaborations with programs and institutions beyond Coe. We would welcome the opportunity to serve as resources and learning partners for ACM colleagues at other schools. In addition to an ACM-wide webinar at the end of the grant period and our willingness to bring the Reentry Simulation to other campuses, we will be glad to share materials from the faculty workshop and Common Hour presentation that we plan to offer at Coe to introduce PLI to our campus community.