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Education Across the Prison Walls: Getting Classes Started

November 3, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - November 4, 2021 @ 6:30 pm

Higher education in IL prisons has had a long but inconsistent history starting in the 1950s. In person and correspondence classes have been offered through community colleges, theatre companies, individual artists, poets and faculty at various universities and more. In 2008  the Education Justice Project out of University of IL Urbana Champaign proposed to build 3000-5000 level classes on top of an existing community college program at Danville prison in central IL. A few years later faculty from DePaul University and faculty from Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project started classes at Stateville Prison. Since that time many other programs have started and educators around the state are interested in learning more. What are the practical steps for developing a new HEP program?

This panel will present a newly developed guide by the Emerging Program ILCHEP committee titled Starting a College-in-Prison Program. Panelists and the moderator will field questions about the successes and challenges of starting classes or a higher education program in prison, and making education accessible to students once they are released.

Join us in conversation with:

Dr. Tim Barnett is Professor of English and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies at Northeastern Illinois University and a member of the leadership team of PNAP (The Prison+Neighborhood Arts/Education Project). With Erica Meiners and support from PNAP and NEIU, he helped start the University Without Walls degree program at Stateville Prison in 2017. Eight incarcerated students have graduated from NEIU since that time, while five more are working on their degrees; the program will accept 8-10 new students in 2022. UWW awards credit for experiential learning at the college level, and Tim’s interests include expanding on the PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) movement to explore more options for awarding credit to incarcerated students.

Dr. Sharon Varallo is the Violet M. Jaeke Chair of Family Life, is the Executive Director of the Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP), which launched in Fall semester 2021.  In that role, Dr. Varallo coordinates the grant-funded BA degree program to Augustana students incarcerated in the East Moline Correctional Center.  APEP was implemented with generous startup monies from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation.  Her academic interests include the study of higher ed in prison, intercultural competence, cultural approaches to time, family communication, and social action research methods.  During her career, she has published work on the scholarship of teaching and learning and on interpersonal and family communication topics.  She has thoroughly enjoyed teaching and accompanying students in numerous off-campus programs (including in China, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and the wilderness of Holden Village in Washington’s Cascade mountains).

Vickie Reddy is Assistant Director of the School of Restorative Arts, the prison education program at North Park University in Chicago. NPU currently enrolls 80 inside students at Stateville Correctional Center and 20 students at Logan women’s facility. Vickie also supports Northwestern University’s Prison Education Program at both facilities. Vickie is motivated to change negative stereotyping and harmful narratives that perpetuate division and unjust systems in society and is passionate about the power of education, particularly in marginalized communities to effect change and empower individuals. This includes collaborating to create new and innovative pathways for those impacted by incarceration, seeing rehabilitation, reconciliation and reentry as a community wide responsibility. Vickie is also pursuing a MA in Restorative Justice Ministry alongside a cohort of inside students at Stateville.

Sarah Ross is an educator and artist whose work uses narrative and the body to address spatial concerns as they relate to access, class, anxiety and activism. She co-founded the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project (PNAP), a cultural project that brings together artists, writers and scholars in and outside Stateville prison to create public projects concerning segregation, criminalization and incarceration. She has also worked with local artists, activists, lawyers, torture survivors and scholars on Chicago Torture Justice Memorials—a recent campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture. Her work has exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, Montreal, Copenhagen, Rio De Janeiro, among other places; Sarah is a Soros Justice Media Fellow and the recipient of grants from the Propeller Fund, Graham Foundation, and the Illinois Art Council. She is an Assistant Professor in Art Education and Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Moderated by Dr. Christina Rivers, is an Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Rivers’ teaching and research interests include African-American politics and political thought, civil and voting rights law. Her current work is on mass incarceration, particularly felon disenfranchisement laws and prison-based gerrymanders. Chris teaches in the Inside/Out Program at Depaul and Stateville Prison and facilitates a think-tank.


November 3, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
November 4, 2021 @ 6:30 pm
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