Intersession Grant: Degree Programs for Prisoners

    January 7, 2019
    By: Christopher Haw, Ph.D.

    Christopher Haw, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and religious studies, received an intersession grant to work on “The Development of an Institutional Memorandum Toward Proposing a Prison Education Initiative entailing an Associate’s and eventual Bachelor’s Degree, through The University of Scranton.” Dr. Haw received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern University, his master’s degree from Villanova University and his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. He began working for the University in 2018.

    Recent legislative efforts, like the First Step Act passed in December 2018 [1], have signaled an increased bipartisan interest in prison reforms, seeking to decrease massive prison warehousing and incentivize more effective re-entry. Meanwhile, prison education programs are beginning to thrive in recent years. [2]

    One of the most effective ways to reduce prisoner recidivism and empower them to return to productive societal life is to earn a substantial, higher educational degree. This is boon for both intellectual formation and considerably improved job prospects. For graduates of the Bard Prison Initiative, for example, recidivism is strikingly less than 2.5 percent and employment post-release is at 85 percent within an average of three months. While there are hundreds of non-degree prison educational initiatives, like tutoring, in the United States, there are only a few universities which have generated the much more effective, official programs at a bachelor’s degree level.

    Prior to my joining The University of Scranton, during the completion of my Ph.D., I was privileged to teach two semesters at the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College’s bachelor’s program at its nearby Westville Prison, the Moreau Education Initiative. And it is my hope to begin such a program here through the help of faculty and administration at The University of Scranton. Naturally, this would take a long time to build up, beginning at an associate’s level and eventually a bachelor’s. But beginning steps are being made: Through my consultation with associate dean Harry Dammer, we have found a considerable interest from not only professors on campus, but officials in the state of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and at our nearby Waymart Prison.

    In Fr. Pilarz’s inauguration speech, he spoke in hopeful anticipation of our University starting “innovating new initiatives,” and that our University would be an “engine of opportunity.” I see such a prison education initiative as not only a distinguishing mark of being a leader in innovative education, fulfilling those visions, but also perfectly matched to the Jesuit mission of this University to work for justice and generously extend the benefits of higher education.

    [1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3356

    [2] Ashley Smith, “Momentum for Prison Education,” Inside Higher Ed, Nov 6, 2018: https://bit.ly/2Av7dB9

    Dr. Haw is assistant professor of theology and religious studies at Scranton.
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