An army of canvassers entered into the Curry Student Center on November 23, 2015 on a mission of awareness. The army, otherwise known as the Students for the Northeastern Prison Initiative (NEPI), proceeded to spread the word about a new program meant to evoke change in our university and in society. But they faced a common question wherever they went: “What is this exactly?” To understand the initiative’s goals and task, there are five key facts you need to know.
What the heck is a prison initiative?
A prison initiative is a program where university professors go into prisons to teach inmates college courses. The admission process for inmates to enroll is rigorous and competitive, based upon a written application and previous behavior within the prison. Generally, only 10% of all applicants are admitted into the program. Admitted inmates are students and therefore treated as such; they are expected to keep up with the workload and they have the same expectations for grades. Upon completing their course of study, inmates are provided with an educational certificate from their particular university as proof of their academic success.
But why is education important for inmates?
Prison educational initiatives are invaluable to inmates and greatly benefit society as a whole. These programs have been shown to dramatically cut the rates of recidivism, or the reoffending and incarceration of inmates once they are released. In 2005, the nationwide recidivism rate over a three year period was a whopping 67.8 percent, but alumni of the Bard University Prison Initiative had a mere two percent recidivism rate. Prison is supposed to be rehabilitation not punishment, and these initiatives have been shown to ensure that mission is completed.
What’s more, these programs provide inmates with a second chance at life and a new identity. At a time when our national prisons are filled to capacity, our justice system unfairly targets minorities (especially black men) and released inmates are harshly discriminated against upon reentering society, an educational program makes the playing field a little more even. It gives inmates a new way of thinking about the world and the skills to be critical and informed members of society. Ultimately, it is one step in making this world a little more fair.
Ok cool, but why does Northeastern need one?
Northeastern is an ideal candidate for a college prison initiative because of what it stands for as a university. According to our mission statement, it is our obligation to “educate students for a lifetime of fulfillment and achievement” and “to create and translate knowledge to meet global and societal needs.” Additionally, the Empower campaign is built upon “people empowering people.” It declares, “Our students and faculty will master and create knowledge that improves lives.” Northeastern also prides itself on a “commitment to equal opportunity… diversity, and social justice [through]… building a climate of inclusion on and beyond campus.” A prison initiative focused on ensuring social justice, using our resources – most specifically our professors – to empower inmates and creating a life of fulfillment for everyone involved is something that is directly in line with what Northeastern stands for.
Alright, alright – but how is this even going to happen or work?
Students for NEPI is advocating that the university sends a few faculty members to teach Northeastern courses in collaboration with the current program at Boston University. These faculty positions will be purely volunteer-based, and various professors have already shown interest in giving their time to do so. As the Northeastern program grows and develops, the hope is that it will eventually branch out into its own entity and become present in more prisons in the area. Northeastern has a sufficient funds to supply this low budget program; however, it is also eligible to apply for Carl D. Perkins Funds, which awards grants to institutions dedicated to educating adult learners. There is no reason that a prison initiative would cause increased tuition cost for Northeastern students. It can self-fund and still make a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of inmates
So how can I help?
The best way to support NEPI is to spread the word of its importance. A letter writing campaign was launched on December 7, 2015 requesting that President Auon, the provosts and other members of the administration consider implementing the initiative. While this project aimed to gain the administration’s attention, there needs to be a real awareness and push from the student body for them to truly consider creating a full-time program. The more the Northeastern community knows about the program’s benefits, the more likely we will be creating a program that can affect real change in prison system.
To start getting involved, follow Students for NEPI on Twitter, like the Students for Northeastern Prison Initiative page on Facebook and verbally spread its mission to support this revolutionary program.
The Students for the Northeastern Prison Initiative hope to get the program up and running by next year. For more information visit Studentsfornepi.weebly.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.