Community Support for the Prison Education Program
The Prison Education Program is supported by many partners who share a belief in the power of education. These notable partners include McGraw-Hill, Addison Wesley, Partakers, and the program and educational staff of the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
Prior to the withdrawal of Pell Grant eligibility from prisoners, community and small private colleges delivered most of the Prison Education Program’s first- and second-year offerings. These schools were especially skilled at aiding older college students whose academic skills were rusty, or who came to college out of GED programs, some even beginning in pre-GED and ESL programs during their incarceration. When Pell Grants were withdrawn, our partnership with these community and small colleges came to an end. Reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners (whose grants amounted to 1/10 of 1% of the total) would make renewed participation by other colleges and universities more feasible.
In the past, colleges and universities supplied the first two years of prison post-secondary education. BU supplied the 300- and 400- level couses, and offered a masters degrees to qualified candidates. Since 1994, when the Pell Grant eligibility of Prisoners was revoked, BU has continued to provide all undergraduate coursework for bachelors degrees. BU replaced the Pell Grants with its own funding, donating the cost of faculty, books, and materials.
Partakers “Education Behind Bars” Program
Partakers enlists local religious organizations to support individual prisoners who hope to qualify for the Boston University Prison Education Program. Partakers volunteers provide support through visits and encouraging letterss. BU students express deep appreciation for their Partakers sponsors, without whom they might not have made progress toward a college degree.
Partakers sponsors do more for the Prison Education Program than support individual students. Each semester, Partakers "endows a chair," which means that they donate the salary of one faculty member teaching a course in line with Partakers' values. For example, one semester they sponsored a course in "Forgiveness," and another semester, a sociology/criminal justice course in "Human Dignity." Partakers also provides typewriters dedicated to BU students in prison and tutoring services to help prospectives prepare for the qualifying examination. Preparing for Release is a document created by Partakers to assist with the re-entry process.
Department of Correction Program, Educational & Treatment Staff
The Department of Correction (DOC) educational staff orients BU instructors at the beginning of their service, and provides ongoing support and guidance throughout the duration of their courses.
The dedication and discipline that the DOC educational staff bring to their work is impressive. They work continuously with the same students for as long as it takes to make progress, and offer support all the way through to graduation.
Interacting with the Department of Correction
This topic is addressed at length in the FAQ, however, there are a few things are worth singling out here: DOC Attendance Sheets, "Good Time," and your DOC Orientation.
DOC Attendance Sheets
All students, except those serving mandatory sentences, receive "good time" for attending class—a maximum of 2.5 hours per BU class attended. Over a long sentence, this can mean leaving prison weeks or months earlier, so it is very important to our students. It is also important to the DOC that "good time" be recorded accurately and in a timely fashion. The DOC depends on BU faculty to complete Attendance Sheets in order to calculate "good time." It is imperative that we respect and respond to this important function of the DOC by doing our part carefully and punctually.
Students can miss part of a class because of a doctor’s appointment, an arranged canteen (prison store) visit, or even their scheduled haircut. Prisoners cannot alter their schedule and the DOC strictly monitors their location. If attendance sheets have errors that indicate our students are in two places at once, it can jeopardize both the program and our students.
Do not assume that the accuracy of the DOC listing is reflected in your online BU class list. The two are unrelated and should be dealt with separately.
BU professors do not have to complete the calculations for "good time," but we do have to complete the DOC Attendance Sheets after the final class meeting. The completed sheets must be returned to the BU clerk for Framingham or Norfolk; to Claire Corsini for South Middlesex, or slid under the door of room 205 for Bay State. The DOC determines how much "good time" a prisoner who attends BU classes earns.
One student who was in prison for eleven years earned enough "good time" to be released almost two years earlier than his official release date. BU students, whether enrolled in a program or auditing a course, receive 2.5 days of "good time" for every month they attend 80% of the classes held. In practical terms, this means that students must attend all class meetings in a typical 4-week month. Attending 4 out of 5 classes in a 5-week month is 80%. If their attendance is partial (2 out of 3 hours only, due to a doctor's appointment, etc), then partial hours during the month are totaled and can still reach 80%. This information is not intended to guide how you structure your classes, rather to help you understand the meaning of "good time" to our prison students.
No "good time" is available to students unless class meets at least two times in the course of a given month. Therefore, keep in mind when scheduling the start and end dates of your classes. A class held only once during the month is sometimes pedagogically necessary, but it will not allow your students to earn "good time." Finally, prisoners with mandatory minimum sentences are not eligible to earn "good time" at all, but still need to be accounted for on the DOC Attendance Sheets.
New teachers must undergo a brief orientation by the DOC. It need not precede your first day of class, but new faculty should contact school principals to arrange the timing. Before the orientation, DOC staff will expect that you have reviewed the DOC Volunteer Handbook. The following is a list of the orientation requirements for each institution, which apply even to experienced prison education teachers who may not have taught at the institution before:
Institutions vary, so it is important to contact them before the first day of class. This way you can coordinate your orientation for a day that you are already scheduled to go into the prison to teach.
Annual Faculty Colloquium
Once a year we schedule a faculty get-together on campus. This serves as a chance to develop as a group of colleagues, since only one teacher at a time appears at any given prison. It is a useful time to share experiences and teaching strategies; further, due to privacy concerns, it is the only opportunity to speak openly about students with others who may know them. Generally, the BU Prison Education Faculty Colloquium is scheduled after midterms in the fall.