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Prison education as conscious raising

sdane's picture

One thing that really struck me about the Jones and D’Errico article was the director of a prison-based higher education program who is quoted as saying “They don’t tell us how to teach, and we don’t tell them how to lock people up.” The more I think about it, the more I think that higher education in prison should assume this role.  Jones and D’Errico grapple with the question of whether or not resources should be used to teach incarcerated individuals, but I think a much more important question is: if education programs exist in prisons, what kind of programs should they be?  I have a really hard time applying ideas of reform and rehabilitation from 200 years ago to our exponentially larger criminal justice system today.  I think that, at least in the US, using education as a way to carry out Freire’s idea of dialogical education could be very powerful.  We have a huge problem of racialized and gendered incarceration, of over-incarceration, of a privatized industry being given incentives to put even more people in that system.  Shouldn’t education in prison be used to counteract that?  To allow for dialogical conscious-raising, and to teach about the realities of the situation?  Maybe prison-based teachers shouldn’t literally be telling prison wardens how to do their job, but shouldn’t they start a dialogue about whether the “business of locking people up” needs to change?  Rather than going with Frank Hall’s proposal of putting prisons in the middle of college campuses, I think there needs to be a focus on figuring out why many people in the prison system aren’t able to be traditional students and access those campuses in the first place.