Conference: The Prison Education Movement: Does Brown Have a Role?


Petteruti Lounge, Stephen Robert '62 Center

The US has the largest prison population in the world, with over 2,300,000 men and women currently incarcerated, giving us the second-highest per capita incarceration rate in the world and making us “the world’s leading jailer,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. We spend over $80 billion on incarceration every year, with local and state governments spending $20,000 to $50,000 annually to keep each inmate behind bars. As we know, the system disproportionally effects black Americans, who are imprisoned for drug offenses at rates 10 times higher than whites despite the fact that both have similar rates of drug use. This development is more recent than most may think: in 1990 there were about 600,000 incarcerated people in the US. This staggering increase has impacted our social fabric, culture and democracy in a multitude of ways, rending and destabilizing the family relationships and financial stability of those who are or have been incarcerated, and significantly reducing the numbers of Americans who may exercise the right to vote.

This fall, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage has organized a series of public programs and events related to this important issue in order to better understand the dimensions of the problem and to generate discussion about how Brown might contribute to efforts to ameliorate this national trauma. What are the country’s leading universities doing to help rectify the problems caused by mass incarceration? Increasingly, they are establishing education programs in prisons, and/or “prison-to-college pipeline” programs to support positive re-entry to give current and formerly incarcerated men, women and youth the opportunity to earn BA-level credits or BA degrees while in prison, or to support them in doing so upon release.

The Prison Education Movement: Does Brown Have a Role? Conference asks what it would take to establish a Brown Program for Prison Education, and how Brown can work with other Rhode Island institutions to strengthen existing higher education programs in the state’s prisons and to develop new ones. The conference brings together local and national leaders in the prison education movement to speak about their programs, the state of this growing field and Brown’s potential contribution to college-level educational opportunities for Rhode Island’s incarcerated population of more than 3,000 men and women. You can find more information about the conference, including the program and registration, at

The conference is co-sponsored by John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage; The Royce Family Professorship of Teaching Excellence, Brown University History Department; the Center for the Study of Slavery and Social Justice; and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.