By Jessica Lyons
The Education Justice Project (EJP), which first began offering programs in 2008, is part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Education.
'The mission of the Education Justice Project is to create a model college-in-prison program that demonstrates the positive impacts of higher education upon incarcerated people, their families, the neighborhoods from which they come, the host institution and society as a whole,' said Rebecca Ginsburg, the director of EJP. 'To fulfill that mission we offer education programs at a state prison in Illinois and outreach programs to families and friends of our incarcerated students. Then we produce scholarship about our work, hold events on the Urbana-Champaign campus, keep a lively onsite presence and otherwise aim to education and inspire others about the values of prison higher education.'
EJP has several projects at the Danville Correctional Facility.
'We aim to build an admittedly scaled down version of a college campus there. So in addition to for-credit upper-division (300- and 400-level courses), we offer a range of extra-curricular activities including math, science, business and writing workshops; a sustainability project called Productive Prison Landscapes; a theatre group; a yearbook committee; and a mindfulness discussion programs,' Ginsburg said. 'We host regular student meetings and award events, and our incarcerated students support the program in various ways.'
Ginsburg explained that there are several good things that can come out of providing higher education to incarcerated individuals, including providing intellectual stimulation and hope. She said that studies indicate it can also help create a more peaceful prison environment and has been linked to reduced recidivism rates.
'It provides confidence and cultural and intellectual capital, which ease re-entry,' she said. 'Our program in particular makes it possible for incarcerated men to give back. Everyone likes to feel their life has a purpose, like they're contributing to something larger than themselves in meaningful ways.'
Additionally, Ginsburg said that seeing an incarcerated person pursing an education can inspire family members to also pursue an education.
Ginsburg said that having a higher education program within a correctional facility gives the incarcerated individuals a chance to be and to act like 'the men that they have turned themselves into while in prison.'
'Most of our students are serving long sentences for serious offenses. They majority were incarcerated as teenagers,' she said. 'By the time they become EJP students, in their late 20s or 30s or even older, they have worked hard on themselves and become serious, thoughtful, disciplined men with a strong orientation toward peacemaking. But there's little they can do within the prison to act upon those urges. EJP provides the opportunity.'
There are several ways that people can help the Education Justice Project. Ginsburg said that one way to do is by reaching out to similar programs in their area to see if there is anything they need.
'You can also support our shared work by simply talking about it. Many people don't know that higher education in prison even exists. Spread the news,' Ginsburg said. 'I also hope that your readers will want to help men and women who have served time to re-enter into society. Most want badly to be productive and to contribute. However, it can be very challenging for them to find job opportunities. Check that your company doesn't discriminate against the formerly incarcerated.'
Ginsburg also noted that anyone interested in making a monetary contribution can do so through EJP's website.