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The Scarlet & Black

November symposium celebrates milestone for Prison Program

This month, Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program will observe the first anniversary of the First Year of College Program by hosting a campus-wide symposium. The Prison Program allows both students and faculty to volunteer in prisons in Newton and Mitchellville to provide classes to incarcerated individuals. The program has continually expanded since its creation in Spring 2003 and has now added the First Year of College offering at the Newton Correctional Facility.

Emily Guenther ’07, Prison Program Coordinator, was one of the student leaders of the Prison Program when it was founded as a student-driven initiative. Faculty started getting involved in 2008 as the program continued to grow. Now, students can teach classes across a large spectrum of disciplines, according to their interests and skills.

“[The Program is] fantastic because it is uniquely combining social justice work with academic work, and that’s what is prioritized at this college,” Guenther said. “People in prison are really excellent students. They are fantastically engaged, curious and hardworking.”

The First Year of College Program allows prisoners to take classes with faculty and earn Grinnell College credit that is equivalent to a rigorous first year of study. Faculty passed the motion to grant credit for these classes, which are taught to College standards, in 2009, and the program is currently in a trial period.

“The program is so successful because … we are simply doing what we already do on campus; we are just doing it in the prisons,” Guenther said.

For the upcoming symposium, Guenther organized a wide range of diverse and interesting speakers coming to discuss the many benefits of education in prisons, both for the incarcerated individuals and for those instructing them.

Marc Mauer, a leading expert on criminal justice policy, spoke in JRC 101 on Thursday where he presented “America’s Race to Incarcerate.” His presentation was included in the symposium to provide a larger context of the rising incarceration rates and how Grinnell’s prison program is existing in a time when there are more people being incarcerated than ever before.

The other events in this symposium will take place in two weeks, on Nov. 17 -18. That Thursday, two Grinnell alums, Katie Jares ’07 and Noga Ashkenazi ’09 will be returning to explain their careers inspired by the Prison Program. Later that night, Max Kenner, founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative in New York, which helps support Grinnell’s program, will discuss the role of liberal arts colleges in prisons.

The Liberal Arts in Prison Program is a chance for Grinnellians to help the community in a new and intriguing way. The symposium will allow students, faculty and community members alike to learn about the Program’s history and benefits.

“Study after study has proven that this program is more effective in keeping people from committing additional crimes than any other program,” Guenther said.

See the full schedule at .

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