Event Material

Gerard Robinson and Elizabeth English Smith: Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons

Event Summary

On Tuesday morning, AEI convened a group of experts and practitioners to discuss best practices for education and reentry for incarcerated individuals. The panelists were all authors of a recently published volume titled “Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). The discussions were led by Gerard Robinson and Elizabeth English Smith, the book’s editors.

The first set of panelists discussed research and laws on prisoner education, including the history of education in prisons in the United States, the economics of reentry, and evaluation standards for education programs. Renita Seabrook of the University of Baltimore tied these themes into the specific issues that incarnated women face and the impact of prison on children and families.

The second panel discussed implementation of reentry programs, including how to craft successful reentry initiatives and removing barriers of some current education and reentry programs. Michelle Jones of New York University, a former participant in a prison education program, spoke of her experience and best practices to make these programs work for a wide variety of individuals.

— Rachel Fox Smothermon

Event Description

Following the recent passage of the First Step Act, correctional education and workforce programs have become a frequent topic in criminal justice reform circles. Helping incarcerated individuals return to society as productive and law-abiding citizens is key to making communities safer and reducing recidivism. Yet, prisoner rehabilitation programming is arguably one of the most contested criminal justice policies of our time. Are prisons designed for corporal punishment, human improvement, or both?

A new volume on criminal justice reform, “Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), addresses the debates, challenges, and opportunities surrounding correctional education and workforce development programs. Please join AEI as the volume’s authors, including advocates, researchers, returned citizens, and other experts, discuss the promise, history, and future of correctional education and reentry programs.

Learn more about AEI’s work on this topic here.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook using the hastag #afterprisonAEI.


8:45 AM

9:00 AM
Opening remarks:
Gerard Robinson, AEI; Center for Advancing Opportunity

9:05 AM
Panel I: Research, law, and practice

Ames C. Grawert, Brennan Center for Justice
Nancy La Vigne, Urban Institute
Renita Seabrook, University of Baltimore
Stan Veuger, AEI

Elizabeth English Smith, Council of State Governments Justice Center

9:35 AM

9:45 AM

9:50 AM
Panel II: Preparation for reentry
Andrea Cantora, University of Baltimore
Will Heaton, JustLeadershipUSA
Michelle Jones, New York University
Max Kenner, Bard Prison Initiative

Gerard Robinson, AEI; Center for Advancing Opportunity

10:20 AM

10:30 AM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact at Rachel Fox Smothermon at [email protected], 202.862.5845.

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 Research and Evaluation Center 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 on the development of a women’s reentry program in New York City. Since 2014, she has taught college-level courses at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution in the JCI Scholar Program. Most recently, she developed and is overseeing the implementing of the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program at Jessup Correctional Institution. This new program is part of the US Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell experiment. Dr. Cantora earned a B.A. in criminal justice and psychology, respectively, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Ames C. Grawert is senior counsel and John L. Neu Justice counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. In that position, he advocates for a fairer, more effective criminal justice system and leads a team dedicated to exploring and documenting the collateral costs of mass incarceration. Before joining the Brennan Center, Mr. Grawert was an assistant district attorney in the Appeals Bureau of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and an associate at Mayer Brown LLP. Heis a graduate of New York University School of Law and Rice University.

Will Heaton serves as vice president of policy and government affairs at JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. In this role, he manages JLUSA’s Washington, DC, office, guiding the organization’s federal strategy and helping expand JLUSA’s growing national impact. Before joining JLUSA, Mr. Heaton served as the director of policy and public affairs at the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services to formerly incarcerated men and women. He also served as the vice president of member relations and chief staff at the Council on Foundations. Mr. Heaton began his career in the US House of Representatives as a legislative aide in the Office of the Speaker, and then he served as chief of staff for an Ohio congressman. He holds a bachelor of arts in history and government from the College of William and Mary. He experienced aspects of the criminal justice system firsthand after a deferral felony conviction more than 10 years ago, and he has dedicated his career to ending the inequities that the criminal justice system perpetuates in the United States.

Michelle Jones is a second-year doctoral student in the American studies program at New York University. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University, Ms. Jones completed a four-year seminary ministerial diploma from the University of the South. Her interest in history, women, race, and prisons led her to participate in a scholarly project challenging the narratives of the history of women’s prison with a group of incarcerated scholars. Even while incarcerated, Ms. Jones published and presented her research findings to dispel notions about the reach and intellectual capacity of justice-involved women. While incarcerated, she also presented legislative testimony on a reentry alterative she created for long-term incarcerated people that was approved by the Indiana State Interim Committee on the Criminal Code. She is chairwoman of the board of Constructing Our Future, a reentry alterative for women created by incarcerated women in Indiana. She serves as entrepreneurship development director for The Ladies of Hope Ministries. She is a 2017–18 Beyond the Bars Fellow, a 2017–18 research fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, and a 2018–19 Ford Foundation Bearing Witness Fellow with Art for Justice. As an artist, Ms. Jones is interested in finding ways to funnel her research pursuits into theater and dance. Her original coauthored play, “The Duchess of Stringtown,” was produced in December 2017 in Indianapolis and New York City.

Max Kenner is the founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), one of the leading college-in-prison programs in the United States. He created BPI as a student volunteer organization when he was an undergraduate at Bard College in 1999. After gaining the support of the college and cooperation of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, Mr. Kenner oversaw the growth of the program into a credit-bearing and, subsequently, degree-granting program in 2001. Today, BPI enrolls more than 300 incarcerated women and men full time in a curriculum spanning the breadth of academic disciplines. It offers 70 courses a semester and has conferred 550 degrees to incarcerated students. BPI is home to the national Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which establishes and cultivates college-in-prison programs across the country with partners that include the University of Notre Dame, Wesleyan University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Goucher College.

Nancy La Vigne is a vice president at the Urban Institute, where she directs the Justice Policy Center. She publishes research on prisoner reentry, criminal justice technologies, crime prevention, policing, and the spatial analysis of crime and criminal behavior. 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, and consultant to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Dr. La Vigne was 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 testifies before Congress on prisoner reentry and criminal justice reform and has been featured on National Public Radio 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 University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Rutgers University.

Gerard Robinson is an adjunct fellow at AEI and the executive director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO). The mission of CAO is to develop evidence-based solutions to the most pressing education, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice issues in fragile communities throughout the United States by working with faculty and students at historically black colleges and universities and other postsecondary institutions. Mr. Robinson published or is quoted in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Hill, Gallup News, RealClearPolicy, and the HBCU Times Magazine. Before CAO, he worked as a resident fellow at AEI. He is the coeditor of “Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and “Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), and he coauthored a book chapter about US education reform (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Mr. Robinson earned an Ed.M. from Harvard University, a B.A. from Howard University, and an A.A. from El Camino Community College.

Renita Seabrook is an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice and the director of the Nonprofit Management and Community Leadership Program at the University of Baltimore. Her research interests include program development and evaluation and offender reentry and rehabilitation, specifically for female offenders. Her publications have appeared in various journals, books, and social media outlets, including The Daily Record; Journal of Public Management and Social Policy; “Race, Ethnicity, and Law: Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance” (Emerald Publishing, 2017); and “Maryland’s Criminal Justice System” (Carolina Academic Press, 2017). She is on the editorial board for the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. Previously, Dr. Seabrook worked as research assistant for the Administrative Office of the Courts in the New Jersey Intensive Supervision Program, as a program development consultant for the Georgia Department of Corrections, and as a research coordinator/instructor for the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. She is a 2014 Community Fellow for the Open Society Institute–Baltimore, in which she founded the Helping Others 2 Win Program — an experiential learning program that affords women in transition from prison viable reentry services. Dr. Seabrook earned a B.A. from Purdue University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University–Newark.

Elizabeth English Smith works for the Council of State Governments Justice Center in the Corrections and Reentry division, providing technical assistance to state, local, and nonprofit Second Chance Act grantees. Her work seeks to promote the development and expansion of effective reentry strategies and programs, through the use of evidence-based practices in the corrections field. Previously, Ms. Smith was the manager of external affairs for domestic policy at AEI, where she communicated AEI’s work on correctional education and reentry to policymakers, researchers, and state and local leaders. She also served as a research associate at AEI, traveling around the country to visit and research evidence-based correctional education and reentry programs. Ms. Smith sits on the national advisory board of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and the advisory board of the Petey Greene Program, an in-prison tutoring program. She received a B.A. in political science and Spanish from the University of Michigan and an M.P.P. with a concentration in criminal justice policy from The George Washington University.

Stan Veuger is a resident scholar at AEI, where his research is in political economy and public finance. He is also the editor of AEI Economic Perspectives, a visiting lecturer of economics at Harvard University, a Future World Fellow at the School of International Relations’ Center for the Governance of Change, and an extramural fellow at Tilburg University’s Department of Economics. His research has been published in leading academic and professional journals, including the Journal of Monetary Economics, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. Dr. Veuger is the editor, with Michael Strain, of “Economic Freedom and Human Flourishing: Perspectives from Political Philosophy” (AEI Press, 2016). He also writes frequently for general audiences on economics, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Los Angeles Times, The National Interest, The New York Times, and USA Today, among others. Dr. Veuger serves as the chairman of the Washington, DC, chapter of the Netherland-America Foundation. He received a Ph.D. and an A.M. in economics from Harvard and an M.Sc. in economics from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. He completed his undergraduate education at Utrecht University and Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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