Sustaining Connections: Community Building in Prisons Through Higher Education (Virtual Conference)

February 4, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic shook the prison education community and interrupted in-person programming. This crisis revealed the persistence, resiliency, and vulnerability of the field of higher education, which is essential to the struggle to create learning opportunities in a prison setting. By design, prisons are not structured to facilitate interaction, community building, or the free exchange of ideas, but rather to punish and isolate. Despite this, community efforts have created opportunities
for higher learning that have shifted culture and attitudes inside and outside of prison, empowered students to become dedicated learners and teachers, and created pathways for incarcerated individuals to be resources to their various communities.

The struggle of prison education, the need for public support, and the careful protection of existing programs have been central to the liberation work of college in prison programs. A strong foundation in grassroots organizing has sustained prison higher education programs despite public opposition to this work, changes to public funding opportunities, shifting political agendas, and now a global pandemic. With a rich and diverse history of college programming in prisons throughout the state, the New York community of college stakeholders continue to find meaningful ways to protect college in prison programs and reach students. For these reasons, this conference aims to facilitate discussion, inspire collaboration, and celebrate the NY and greater prison higher- ed community, by creating space for the exploration of a variety of questions.