As students attending Northeastern University, we are incredibly privileged to be able to receive a world-class education and advance our lives through the pursuit of knowledge and subsequent job opportunities and careers. As many of us know but may not often think about, a large proportion of people in this country do not have the same opportunities for education and careers that are afforded us by a university education.

The cycle of poverty, especially in underserved communities, is often characterized by outsiders as prone to crime. This generalization is unfair and sweeping, as it completely overlooks the difficult circumstances and choices that many individuals face. When crimes are committed due to poverty and desperation, reintegration back into society is incredibly challenging, if not often impossible. Those affected by the poor transition back into society are disproportionately minorities, predominantly young, African-American males. This demographic, encompassing almost 50 percent of all inmates in the United States, has the most difficult transition back into society both in terms of social rehabilitation and finding jobs.

To address this important issue, we formed the Northeastern Prison Initiative, a student-led advocacy project started by students in the COMM3409 Advocacy Writing course. Our goal is to promote the adaptation of a prison education program at local prisons by instituting classes by Northeastern professors for inmates. This type of prison education program is currently in place at other American universities, such as Boston University, Bard College and Cornell University. We firmly believe that Northeastern – as a prestigious institution of learning committed to social change and giving back to the community – should adapt this program. Prison education programs counter the dehumanization and stereotypes that inmates often face to rehabilitate them back into society through education and improved job opportunities afforded by such programs.

Rehabilitation of inmates and reintegration into society is a challenging issue central to criminal justice system. Prison education programs have been shown to have lower rates of recidivism, or a person’s relapse into criminal behavior. For example, the Bard Prison Initiative, which has educated over 300 inmates since its founding in 2001, has a recidivism rate of less than two percent after three years upon leaving prison. This can be compared to the overall average 40 percent of recidivism rate in the state of New York. Aside from obtaining associate’s and bachelor’s degrees while in prison, even taking individual college-level courses has been shown to decrease rates of recidivism and positively impact the rehabilitation process for inmates. Prison education initiatives are also important in helping inmates with re-entry into the job market.

The interest in forming a Northeastern Prison Initiative is present within both the faculty and student body. My colleagues and I have obtained hundreds of signatures from students who support this cause. We also aim to garner the support and commitment of professors within different departments who will be enthusiastic about providing their time as professors to teach at local prisons as part of this initiative. There are several correctional facilities in the Greater Boston Area that are not currently affiliated with a prison education program and would benefit greatly from such a partnership. We have a duty as a university to form a prison education program and give back to the community through educational empowerment. As students privileged with a quality university education, how can we not promote this opportunity for those who may never otherwise receive one?

Pallavi Dasari is a senior human services student.

Photo courtesy Ann-Christin Karlén Gramming, Creative Commons