prison education, reentry, college in prison, adult education, transformative education, qualitative methods, liberal studies, isolation, social justice


This qualitative study examines the immediate and lasting impact of liberal arts higher education in prison from the perspective of former college-in-prison students from the Northeastern United States. Findings obtained through semi-structured interviews with formerly incarcerated people are presented in the following three areas: self-confidence and agency, interpersonal relationships, and capacity for civic leadership. This study further examines former students’ reflections on the relationship between education and human transformation and begins to benchmark college programming with attention to the potential for such transformation. The authors identify four characteristics critical to a program’s success: academic rigor, the professor's respect for students, discussion-based learning, and respectful relationships between college and prison personnel. This study contributes to the growing field of scholarship on the benefits of prison higher education beyond those captured by studies of high-level data, such as the rate of return to prison.

Author Bio

Hilary Binda is a Senior Lecturer in Civic Studies at Tufts University and the Founding Director of the Tufts University Prison Initiative of the Tisch College of Civic Life. She directs and teaches in the Tufts college-in-prison degree program and the Inside-Out program that offers courses combining undergraduates and incarcerated students. Her current research aims support the development of educational equity and decriminalization. She is also the Director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Tufts.

Jill Weinberg is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and an affiliated scholar at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, IL. She is a scholar who examines decriminalization through social process, focusing on the ways groups use rules, norms, and the language of consent and choice. She is widely published in peer-review journals such as Sociological Science, Sociological Methods & Research, and Law & Social Inquiry, and popular accounts of her work have appeared in the Advocate, the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Truthout, and the Society Pages.

Nora Maetzener is a recent graduate of Tufts University where she helped to build the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College as a Laidlaw Research Fellow, Student Program Coordinator, and Educational Event Coordinator. She is pursuing a career in prison reform, currently in the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York.

Carolyn L. Rubin is a social scientist in Tufts University’s Department of Public Health, trained in theories of racial and ethnic inequality, immigration, community development, and qualitative methods. Her research agenda focuses on using collaborative community research partnerships to address health disparities in underserved communities in Boston. She has led community-based participatory research projects related to Asian women’s health and also developed research capacity-building programs for community partners.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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