Inequal­ity in­car­cer­a­tion and the hope of ed­u­ca­tion

New Straits Times - - Higher ED - Win­ston ChurChill The writer is a lec­turer in Ed­u­ca­tion in Aus­tralia. Email him at

for higher ed­u­ca­tion.”

What does this tell us about Amer­i­can so­ci­ety and its pri­or­i­ties? What might be some of the ben­e­fits to so­ci­ety of rethinking the re­la­tion­ship and place of higher ed­u­ca­tion and prisons? Kar­powitz makes the fol­low­ing point: ‘’Re­gard­less of whether or not we have ‘col­lege in prison’, the two in­sti­tu­tions share par­al­lel roles in the re­pro­duc­tion of Amer­i­can priv­i­lege and inequal­ity. In­deed, the dy­nam­ics of con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can inequal­ity most closely track two di­ver­gent life-paths: through col­lege on the one hand, prison on the other.”

In other words, these sta­tis­ti­cal de­scrip­tions of the in­car­cer­a­tion and higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems tell us a lot about the pri­or­i­ties of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety and how priv­i­lege and inequal­ity are sus­tained.

But what would be the ben­e­fits of col­lege in prison? What are the ben­e­fits of chang­ing these pri­or­i­ties? One so­cially mea­sur­able ben­e­fit is its ef­fect on re­cidi­vism.

In an in­ter­view with Emily Tate in

Kar­powitz dis­cusses the Bard Prison Ini­tia­tive (BPI) which is the ba­sis of his book. He points out that: “The rate of re­cidi­vism at BPI, af­ter 15 years, is about four per cent for those who par­tic­i­pate and two per cent for those who com­plete a de­gree. The base­lines are very high: re­cidi­vism is typ­i­cally from 20 to 40 per cent. There are many ways to measure and mis­mea­sure these ef­fects, but there’s no ques­tion that en­gage­ment in higher ed­u­ca­tion cor­re­lates with pro­found re­duc­tions in re­cidi­vism.”

So, there are so­cially ob­jec­ti­fi­able and mea­sur­able ben­e­fits to col­lege in prison. How­ever, Kar­powitz points to three ba­sic rea­sons why col­lege be­longs in prison which go be­yond the ar­gu­ment made above.

The first is the moral ar­gu­ment which rests on “recog­nis­ing that pun­ish­ment is by no means the only or best mech­a­nism for the pur­suit of moral ac­count­abil­ity”.

Se­condly, there is the po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment. In re­gards to this ar­gu­ment Kar­powitz quotes Win­ston Churchill ad­dress­ing the House of Com­mons on July 20, 1910. Churchill ar­gued: “The mood and tem­per of the public in re­gard to the treat­ment of crime and crim­i­nals is one of the most un­fail­ing tests of the civil­i­sa­tion of any coun­try.”

Kar­powitz re­in­forces Churchill’s in­sight and ar­gues that, “col­lege in prison should be con­ceived less about how peo­ple in prison might change and more about how we, as a so­ci­ety in­creas­ingly de­fined by the scope and qual­ity of our prisons, might change our­selves”.

The fi­nal ar­gu­ment Kar­powitz of­fers for col­lege in prison is not about crime and pun­ish­ment but about higher ed­u­ca­tion it­self.

To main­tain the com­mit­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion not just to ex­cel­lence but also to inclusiveness as well re­quires se­ri­ously look­ing at where we could spend time and ef­fort to ad­vance an “in­clu­sive ex­cel­lence” agenda.

Kar­powitz ar­gues: “The per­ceived cri­sis in the academy is not about the poverty or os­si­fi­ca­tion of our tra­di­tions but about our in­sti­tu­tional fail­ure to take the risks needed to find stu­dents in un­con­ven­tional places and en­gage them at crit­i­cal mo­ments in their lives.”

Kar­powitz makes an im­por­tant ar­gu­ment which ex­tends be­yond the Amer­i­can ex­am­ple dis­cussed above. It is worth re­flect­ing upon.

There is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of ev­ery per­son.

A class in ses­sion at Kajang Prison in Selangor.

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