Georgetown Prison Scholars Program bringing music education to the D.C. Jail

This spring, Georgetown University students joined men and women incarcerated in the D.C. Jail for an “inside-outside” course studying musical traditions associated with the criminal justice system. The course—recently featured on American University radio station WAMU 88.5—was offered through Georgetown’s Prison Scholars Program and brought together about two dozen participants: half Georgetown students, half women and men incarcerated at the D.C. Jail.

Students participating in the course, led by Georgetown music professor Ben Harbert, met for three hours every week at the D.C. Jail. They explored topics such as singing in solitary confinement and shared songs they had written. WAMU 88.5 notes that while the Georgetown and incarcerated students coalesced around “their shared interests in music and social justice,” the differences in their living situations meant that a “divide between the two groups was always present.”

The course also revealed a key complication: inmates lacked access to recording equipment. Now, Harbert plans to replace the original course with a music recording program that will teach students how to edit songs, provide access to recording equipment, and bring guest artists to the D.C. Jail. In addition, Harbert will partner with the jail’s medical director to research the effects of “chaotic sound” on the mental health of incarcerated individuals.

Learn more about Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative

Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative brings together leading scholars, practitioners, and students to examine the problem of mass incarceration from multiple perspectives. By hosting a series of academic and policy events, and by supporting faculty and student research projects, the initiative seeks to create a prominent and lasting platform to address the evolving challenges of criminal justice and prison reform. Learn more about the Prisons and Justice Initiative.

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