The Human Rights Program is home to Trinity’s Prison Education Project (TPEP), which offers credit-bearing college classes to incarcerated people at two locations in Connecticut: York Correctional Institution, a state prison for women in East Lyme, and Hartford Correctional Center, the city jail. Trinity also offers students on its Hartford campus many opportunities to learn about mass incarceration and related issues (see “For Students,” below).
Coming up: On Thursday, February 15, TPEP co-directors will speak about “Trinity Classes Behind Bars: Teaching and Learning in Jails and Prisons.” The interactive event is organized by Trinity’s Academy for Lifelong Learning and will take place on zoom from 12:15 – 1:15 PM Eastern. Please click here to register.
TPEP in the news: read a recent article about our new initiative at the city jail in Hartford.
Trinity’s Prison Education Project exists to reduce educational inequities, support incarcerated people, and help them succeed after release. For one of our alumni, Marisol Garcia, our classes at York CI provided “the knowledge I needed to return to my community and the ambition to eventually work with lawmakers on sentencing policy, sentencing reform, and alternatives to prison that reduce recidivism rates.”Creating educational pathways for incarcerated people is an important social justice issue. The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other country in the world, predominantly poor people and people of color. Many incarcerated adults have not had access to high-quality education, and about 30 percent do not have a high school diploma or GED. TPEP offers college classes behind bars to help redress these educational inequities. We believe a liberal arts education is valuable in itself, and we know it can help people rebuild their lives after incarceration. A RAND study shows that prisoners enrolled in higher education programs are 43% less likely to be reincarcerated, while Forbes notes that cutting the re-incarceration rate in half would save the United States $2.7 billion a year. As Marisol Garcia puts it, “While mass incarceration robbed me of my humanity, education helped me secure a job after I was released.”
Founded in 2012 by Trinity professors Judy Dworin, Joseph Lea, and Sheila Fisher, TPEP (formerly Trinity Prison Seminar Series) is one of the longest running college-in-prison programs in the state. We partner with Quinnipiac University to offer seminars year-round at York CI, the state’s prison for women and people assigned female at birth. Our courses are typically interdisciplinary and allow students to experience the breadth of the liberal arts. In the spring of 2024, Trinity faculty are teaching a seminar on “Law, Gender, Empire.” Other recent topics have included “Postcolonial Women’s Writing,” “Cities, Citizenship, and Civilization,” and “Global Understanding.”
In the fall of 2023, TPEP also started offering college classes at Hartford Correctional Center, the city jail. There is a growing number of college-in-prison programs, but people in jails have been left behind. Unlike people in prison, most people in jail have not been convicted of a crime. They may spend months and even years while their criminal cases unfold, but they have few opportunities to use their time productively. TPEP is the first to offer college classes at the Hartford jail. We are also one of the few college-in-jail programs nationally, and we take inspiration from Western Mass CORE.
Our first semester teaching at the jail was a great success. TPEP enrolled 20 unique students across two classes: “Friends and Enemies” and “Postcolonial Fiction,” and more than 75% of our students earned college credit. As one student told us: “I am glad I was chosen out of many to be a part of the program and to be a Trinity student. I was given a chance of a life time.” In the spring of 2024, we are offering two writing-intensive courses at HCC.
Trinity faculty interested in teaching with TPEP should reach out to Co-Directors Joe Lea and Anna Terwiel. We welcome proposals for both established and new courses, and faculty may opt to teach solo or in a team. TPEP offers a teaching stipend, and TPEP courses count as an overload. Faculty in the program will receive training from TPEP and will be required to go through an orientation by the Department of Correction and pass a background check.
Trinity offers students many opportunities to learn about mass incarceration. Students may earn a Certificate in Carceral Systems and Social Change by taking two academic courses and engaging in one co-curricular experience that takes students outside of the classroom.
The Human Rights Studies Program offers two classes that count toward the Certificate. “Human Rights Through Performance” (HRST 373) and “New Beginnings: Justice Alternatives and the Arts” (HRST 348) both look at the issues that surround incarceration and the impact that the arts can have on populations affected by it.
Both classes are co-curricular experiences because they include a significant field study component. HRST 373 includes as many as 3 visits at York Correctional Institution or other correctional facilities. Students explore and experience directly the impact of arts engagements with those residing there. In HRST 348, students have another unique hands-on experience: they help facilitate a weekly arts workshop with people who are reentering the community from prison. For this class, Trinity collaborates with Community Partners in Action’s Resettlement Program. Students’ 10-week experience culminates in a small sharing of the arts work generated by the returning citizens and the students. The sharing is open to the Trinity Community, the Resettlement Program, and invited guests.
Many students continue participating in New Beginnings throughout their college careers and it has been a formative experience for their future studies and career choices. Each of these courses offers a rich and varied opportunity for students to investigate critical issues related to the prison system. The two courses complement and support each other, HRST 373 focusing more specifically on the in-prison experience and HRST 348 on the collateral effects of incarceration on youth, families, and those re-entering the community from prison.
For more information about the Certificate in Carceral Systems and Social Change, please contact Professor Ben Carbonetti, Director of the Human Rights Program and Certificate coordinator.