CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois is expanding its academic programs for men in prison with the support of a three-year, $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Based in the College of Education, EJP offers education programs to men incarcerated at the Danville Correctional Center, a medium security state prison in Danville, Illinois. The comprehensive college-in-prison program, which has served students at Danville since 2008, includes upper-division college courses taught by U. of I. faculty members and advanced graduate students, educational workshops and extracurricular activities such as an anti-violence group, an English as a second language program, a guest lecturer series, reading groups and tutoring.
The Mellon Foundation funding will enable EJP to expand the number of courses at Danville so that incarcerated students can take two courses each semester and progress more quickly toward certificates, said Rebecca Ginsburg, the director of EJP.
She is a professor of education policy, organization and leadership, and of landscape architecture at the university.
EJP currently offers eight to 10 courses at the prison each year and anticipates increasing that number to 16 courses during 2018, and to 24 courses by 2020, Ginsburg said.
“This growth is made possible because the Mellon grant will enable us to pay course instructors, who until now have taught on a volunteer basis,” said Ginsburg, who has been honored for her work by the NAACP of Champaign County and other organizations.
EJP currently is recruiting a full-time director of academic programming, who will be based at Danville Correctional Center and oversee academic and student affairs. The director position will serve as the main point of contact between EJP instructors who teach at the correctional center and prison staff.
A portion of the grant supports a pilot project involving development of an educational channel for the prison’s TV system. EJP will use the channel to broadcast educational films, documentaries, videos and lectures relevant to students’ coursework and other interests, including dance, music and theater programming. EJP staff members are collaborating with the correctional center’s leisure time services officer on the project and expect to launch the channel in spring 2018.
If successful, the channel may be implemented at other correctional facilities in Illinois, Ginsburg said.
“Although EJP will have primary responsibility for maintaining this channel, we’ll work with other educators at the prison and with the principal in selecting content that supports all of the facility’s educational initiatives,” she said.
EJP’s guest lecturer series will be enhanced with the Mellon funding as well. The grant provides funding for EJP to bring in one outside speaker per semester, representing arts and humanities disciplines, in keeping with the Mellon Foundation’s mission. The first lecture is expected to be held next spring.
The grant includes funding for EJP to expand its library for students at the correctional center and upgrade the technology in its computer lab. About 1,000 books and DVDs will be added to the library’s permanent circulating collection.
In conjunction with other college-in-prison programs and allies such as the Illinois Department of Corrections, Ginsburg is exploring development of a statewide higher education program that would enable colleges and universities to offer degree programs to incarcerated students. A portion of the Mellon grant will support quarterly meetings of this group, called the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison.
In addition to incarcerated students, EJP provides support and services for individuals as they leave prison and re-enter society and for family members of individuals who are incarcerated.
EJP is using a portion of the grant funding to develop an evaluation protocol for documenting and assessing its programs’ long-term impact. In January, Nicole Robinson of NNR Evaluation Planning and Research, an external evaluator located in Wisconsin, will begin the evaluation process, which is expected to continue through 2020.
The grant also supports the production of two new promotional videos about EJP’s programs. The videos, which are being produced by photographers and videographers on campus, will be available for viewing on EJP’s website and shown to audiences at events on campus and in the community.
“We’re committed to representing incarcerated scholars in ways that undercut dominant narratives of people in prison as scary and threatening,” Ginsburg said. “We hope through these videos to encourage viewers to develop more complex understandings of our students and of incarcerated people generally.”