In the fall of 2008, Professor of Sociology Bruce Western and Kaia Stern, then Project Director at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, forged a relationship with Boston University’s longstanding Prison Education Program and the Massachusetts Department of Correction to create unique opportunities for college education in prison.
Co-taught as an upper-division college seminar in Urban Sociology, the first Prison Studies course was at MCI Norfolk and included five Boston University graduates who audited the class from inside the state prison, ten BU college students who were incarcerated at MCI Norfolk, and five Harvard juniors in sociology, who traveled to the prison from Harvard’s campus in Cambridge. Each student involved in the program received full academic credit toward his or her bachelor’s degree, from either Harvard or BU.
The Prison Studies Project behind bars has proved to be deeply transformative for students, changing not only their attitudes about the justice system in this country but often their career and life goals. By participating in education that brings college students together in a prison classroom, Harvard has joined forward-thinking institutions such as Amherst, Bard, Columbia, Cornell, Patten University, Vassar, Wesleyan and countless community colleges and state universities in becoming a more active community citizen and reaching out to people who are often denied educational opportunities.
As part of our collective goal to move public policy in the direction of making increased educational opportunity for people with criminal records a priority, the Prison Studies Project (in partnership with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute) has released a national directory of post-secondary education programs in prison. Please contact us if you know of programs that should be included.
In summer 2009, Kaia Stern offered “Introduction to Liberation Theologies” at MCI Framingham, the nation’s oldest penal institution for women. In spring 2010, Anthony Braga, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and chief adviser to the Boston Police Department, and Kaia Stern co-taught a second course at MCI Norfolk, “Community Justice and Public Safety.” The third course at MCI Norfolk, “Race, Poverty and Community Justice” was taught by Kaia Stern in fall 2010. Kaia taught “Race, Poverty and Family Justice” at MCI Framingham in the fall of 2011. She is currently teaching, “Ethics, Punishment and Race” at MCI Framingham.