Education for liberation: The politics of promise and reform inside and beyond America’s prisons - AEI

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Event Summary

On Tuesday, AEI convened the authors of a forthcoming AEI-led book on prison education and reentry, in addition to other returned citizens, advocates, and scholars, to address how to better prepare individuals to successfully reenter society after serving time in prison. The panels focused on why policymakers should care about prison education and reentry, how programs and politics work at the ground level, how to reduce recidivism through innovative reentry approaches, and what it is like to actually go through these programs as an incarcerated student.

While the voices on the panels were diverse, spanning from research, law, advocacy, and programming backgrounds, all speakers commonly believed that, to reduce recidivism and increase opportunity, we need to change the public perception of incarcerated individuals and treat them with dignity in our nation’s policy conversations.

Event Description

Prisoner rehabilitation programming is one of the most contested criminal justice policies today. Are our prisons designed for corporal punishment, human improvement, or a combination?
Efforts to rehabilitate prisoners have taken a front seat in criminal justice reform debates today. Local, state, and federal support for postsecondary education and workforce readiness programs has grown, as has corporate and philanthropic efforts to provide programming to prisoners and those who have just reentered society.

To address how to better prepare individuals to successfully reenter society upon their release from prison, AEI will release a book in 2018 on the current debates, challenges, and opportunities surrounding these programs, written by experts working in policy, on college campuses, in prisons, and in the private sector. Join us as these authors, in addition to advocates, returned citizens, and other experts, discuss the promise, history, and future of prison education and reentry programs.

Join the conversation on social media with #ReentryatAEI.

Learn more about this project here.


9:15 AM
Registration and breakfast

9:30 AM
Opening remarks:
Gerard Robinson, AEI

9:35 AM
Panel I: The case for prison education

Ames Grawert, Brennan Center for Justice
Nancy LaVigne, Urban Institute
Jody Lewen, Prison University Project

Elizabeth English, AEI

10:35 AM

10:45 AM
Panel II: Programs and politics

Andrea Cantora, University of Baltimore Second Chance College Program
Linda Gibbs, Bloomberg Associates
Renita Seabrook, University of Baltimore

Gerard Robinson, AEI

11:45 AM

12:15 PM
Lunch conversation: Life on the inside

John Huffington, Living Classrooms Foundation
Karen Jones, OCD Office Cleaners
Grant Duwe, Minnesota Department of Corrections

Gerard Robinson, AEI

1:15 PM

1:20 PM
Panel III: Reentry and reducing recidivism

Will Heaton, Center for Employment Opportunities
Thomas Stewart, Patten University
Stan Veuger, AEI

Gerard Robinson, AEI

2:20 PM
Final remarks

2:30 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Elizabeth English at elizabeth.eng[email protected], 202-862-5822.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Andrea Cantora is an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore. She has worked as a researcher at the John Jay Institute and the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. She specializes in qualitative research and program evaluations, with a primary focus on prisoner reentry and urban crime prevention. Her work has been published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, the American Journal of Criminal Justice, and Criminal Justice Studies. Dr. Cantora has also worked directly with incarcerated populations since 2005, including developing a women’s reentry program in New York City. Since 2014, she has taught college-level courses at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) in the JCI Scholars Program. Most recently, she developed and is overseeing the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program at JCI. This new program is part of the US Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Grant experimental program. Dr. Cantora earned a B.A. in criminal justice and psychology and an M.A. and Ph.D. in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Grant Duwe is an academic adviser to AEI for criminal justice reform. He is also the research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, where he develops and validates risk assessment instruments, forecasts the state’s prison population, and conducts research studies and program evaluations. Dr. Duwe has published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals on a wide variety of correctional topics, and he is a coauthor of “The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance and Rehabilitation” (Routledge, 2017).

 Elizabeth English is the manager of external affairs for domestic policy studies at AEI. Previously, she was a research associate at AEI, researching and writing about prison education and reentry, early childhood education, and K–12 education policy. Along with Mr. Robinson, Ms. English has traveled around the country visiting various prison education and reentry programs, interviewing participants, program directors, and correctional staff. Her work has appeared in outlets including US News & World Report, Fortune, Real Clear Policy, National Review, and The American Psychological Association. Ms. English serves on the advisory board of the Texas-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program and on the advisory board of The Petey Greene Program, which provides free tutoring to support the academic achievement of incarcerated individuals. She has a B.A in political science and Spanish from the University of Michigan and is pursuing her master of public policy at The George Washington University.

 Linda Gibbs served as New York City deputy mayor of health and human services from 2005 to 2013. Supervising the city’s human service, public health, and social justice agencies, she spearheaded major initiatives on poverty alleviation, juvenile justice reform, and obesity reduction. She helped shape two collaborative efforts to address significant social challenges: “Age Friendly NYC,” a blueprint for enhancing livability for older New Yorkers, and “Young Men’s Initiative,” addressing race-based disparities facing black and Latino young men in the areas of health, education, employment training, and the justice system. Ms. Gibbs also improved the use of data and technology in human service management, contract effectiveness, and evidence-based program development. During her tenure, New York City has been the only top-20 city in the US whose poverty rate did not increase, while the national average rose 28 percent. Before her appointment as deputy mayor, Ms. Gibbs was commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services and held senior positions with the Administration for Children’s Services and the Office of Management and Budget. She is a graduate of SUNY Buffalo School of Law.

 Ames Grawert is counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and the John L. Neu Justice Counsel. His work seeks to develop an understanding of the cost of America’s criminal justice system — to defendants, inmates, and the nation as a whole — and to translate that information into legal change. Previously, Mr. Grawert served as an assistant district attorney in the Appeals Bureau of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, where he reviewed and litigated claims of actual innocence in addition to his appellate work. Before entering public service, he was an associate at Mayer Brown LLP, where he represented criminal defendants pro bono in state and federal post-conviction litigation. He uses this experience to examine criminal justice issues from “both sides,” taking into account the interests of prosecutors, police officers, and criminal defendants alike. Mr. Grawert earned a B.A. from Rice University and a law degree from New York University.

 Will Heaton serves as the director of policy and public affairs for the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services to men and women with recent criminal convictions. CEO is headquartered in New York City and has offices in California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania to provide returning citizens with life-skills education, short-term paid transitional employment, and full-time employment. Before his work at CEO, Mr. Heaton was vice president of member relations at the Council on Foundations, one of the largest philanthropic networks in the United States. He served as a key liaison with foundation leaders across the country working with them on issues affecting philanthropy and the communities they served. These issues included impact investing, global philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, and advocacy. Before working on the Council on Foundations, Mr. Heaton served as a chief of staff for an Ohio congressman and a legislative aide in the Office of the Speaker. He earned a B.A. from the College of William & Mary with a double major in history and government.

 John Huffington is the director of the Living Classrooms Foundation’s Target Investment Zone Workforce Development Program in Baltimore, Maryland. Previously, he spent 32 years in the Maryland prison system, 10 of which were on death row. Maintaining his innocence for the crimes for which he was convicted, he was ultimately released from prison in 2013 through a writ of actual innocence. In addition to his role at Living Classrooms, Mr. Huffington is a member of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Coalition for a Second Chance, the Green Network leadership team, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention collateral consequences workgroup, and the Baltimore Police Department’s Community Collaborative Division reentry advisory committee.

Karen Jones spent six years in a Maryland prison, where she was a student in the Goucher Prison Education Program. Since her release in 2015, she has started a successful business that she runs while working full time. Ms. Jones is a focus issue expert and a frequent speaker on issues such as women in prison, mass incarceration, and reentry. She is involved in several social justice campaigns, specifically addressing systemic racial injustice and juvenile life. Drawing on her own involvement with the criminal justice system, Ms. Jones works to raise awareness of the benefits of education on incarceration. She volunteers as a guest lecturer at the University of Baltimore School of Law and Catholic University.

Nancy La Vigne is director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. She publishes research on prisoner reentry, criminal justice technologies, crime prevention, policing, and the spatial analysis of crime and criminal behavior. Her work appears in scholarly journals and practitioner publications and has made her a sought-after spokesperson on related subjects. Before being appointed director, Dr. La Vigne was a senior research associate at Urban, directing groundbreaking research on prisoner reentry. Before joining Urban, she was founding director of the Crime Mapping Research Center at the National Institute of Justice. She later was special assistant to the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs in the US Department of Justice. She has also been research director for the Texas sentencing commission, research fellow at the Police Executive Research Forum, consultant to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and executive director for the bipartisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Reform. She chairs the board of the Crime and Justice Research Alliance and serves on the board for the Consortium of Social Science Associations. She has testified before Congress on prisoner reentry and criminal justice reform and has been featured on NPR and in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune. Dr. La Vigne holds a B.A. in government and economics from Smith College, an M.A. in public affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Rutgers University.

 Jody Lewen is the founder and executive director of the Prison University Project (PUP), a college-in-prison program that provides 20 intellectually rigorous courses each semester in the humanities, the social sciences, math, and science to men incarcerated at San Quentin. Students can enroll in courses for personal development or earn an associate of arts degree in general education from Patten University, where Dr. Lewen is the extension site director. Dr. Lewen started volunteering with the program in 1999. She earned an M.A. in philosophy and comparative literature from Freie Universitat, Berlin, and a Ph.D. in rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley. She has published and presented extensively in the fields of psychoanalysis, literary theory, and criminal justice. She was the 2006 recipient of the Peter E. Haas Public Service Award from the University of California, Berkeley, and a recipient of the 2015 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.

Gerard Robinson is a resident fellow at AEI, where he works on education policy issues including choice in public and private schools, regulatory development and implementation of K–12 laws, the role of for-profit institutions in education, prison education and reentry, rural education, and the role of community colleges and historically black colleges and universities in adult advancement. Before joining AEI, Mr. Robinson served as commissioner of education for the State of Florida and secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. As president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, he worked to ensure that children in low-income and working-class black families in several states and the District of Columbia were given the opportunity to attend good schools. Throughout his career he has evaluated the effects of reform initiatives on parental choice and student achievement, advocated for laws to improve delivery of teaching and learning, and published essays on how to make good policy to give all children a chance at a good job and future. A proponent of the importance of education to civil society, Mr. Robinson has spoken before audiences in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. He started his career teaching fifth grade in a private, inner-city school. He is a member of many education-related boards. His issue brief for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools was cited in an amicus brief presented before the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2013. Mr. Robinson has a master of education degree from Harvard University, a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Howard University, and an associate of arts degree from El Camino College.


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