Participants in Georgetown University’s Prison Scholars Program recently gathered to kick off the fall semester, attending their first in-person classes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part of Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI), the Prison Scholars Program has been operating at the D.C. Jail since 2018, offering 20 for-credit and 30 non-credit classes for incarcerated learners. Scholars, who also attend weekly lectures on a range of topics, emerge from the program with knowledge, skills, and lasting confidence. PJI also is launching a full bachelor’s degree program for students incarcerated at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland.
A return to in-person learning
For the past year and a half, students in the Prison Scholars Program have taken courses virtually, using tablets to access lectures, course materials, and assignments uploaded by Georgetown faculty. Now, with COVID protocols in place and all students and faculty vaccinated, the program is back in person two days a week.
The resumption of in-person learning after 18 months in a virtual environment was “a powerful reminder of the toll that the pandemic has taken—on all of us, but especially on those who have been incarcerated,” said Joe Napolitano, who serves as the assistant director of education at the Prisons and Justice Initiative and is teaching a three-credit writing seminar focused on literature of apartheid South Africa.
PJI Director Marc Howard, meanwhile, is teaching his Prisons and Punishment course, which explores the U.S. criminal justice and prison system and underlying issues of race in criminal justice. The course has a unique “inside-outside” format, in which undergraduate students in the Capitol Applied Learning Labs program attend class meetings at the jail alongside their incarcerated peers.
“First and foremost, I hope that during our class sessions all of my students will momentarily forget their larger background and context, and that they will connect with each other as equals, on a human level,” Howard says. “Having a fully mixed class like this is a unique experience, and I hope it is formative and life-changing for all of them.”
Scholars also are taking a personal finance course, learning about money management, investing, budgeting, debt, and stocks from Professor Mike Ryan. Ryan says that the course material is especially relevant for incarcerated students who will soon return home and hopes it will empower returning citizens to “take charge of [their] financial lives.”
The Prisons and Justice Initiative is a crucial part of Georgetown’s university-wide effort to study the role of race in society and build a more just and equitable world by addressing disparities in mass incarceration, education, health, leadership, and more. Learn about Georgetown’s plans to advance this ambition. More >