Patriots Defenders Put Reforming Power of Prison Education in Focus

Patriots Defenders Put Reforming Power of Prison Education in Focus

Any good football defender knows that with each setback must come a step forward, to recover. Super Bowl-winning, twin New England Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty recognize the importance of providing education options for individuals striving to recover and reform during their time in the penal system.

The McCourtys are outspoken champions of both education and criminal justice reform. Earlier this month at Patriots Place’s Showcase Cinema de Lux, they hosted a screening of “College Behind Bars,” a Ken Burns-produced PBS documentary that explains the transformative potential of initiatives like BU’s Prison Education Program, which since 1972 has provided the incarcerated with opportunities to improve and enrich themselves through academic pursuits. There are 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, and studies show that among the many dividends of an education is that those who get an education while in prison have a lower recidivism rate than those who do not. They are also better positioned to ably and positively reintegrate to society.

“Ninety-five percent of people that are incarcerated will be back in society again,” Devin McCourty said at the screening, earlier this month. “When you think about that, why wouldn’t we make them better people? They’re not going to just be back in society for themselves, but now they have the opportunity to make society better.”

BU’s Initiative on Cities is committed to finding solutions for a better tomorrow, notably in the world of urban leadership. On Tuesday, November 19, the IOC hosted “Prison Changes People, Education Changes Prison,” a seminar that gathered a panel of faculty, students, and experienced advocates to address the importance of educating the incarcerated, the experience of receiving an education as a formerly incarcerated individual, and the opportunities for university students to get involved.

Dr. Mary Ellen Mastrorilli, faculty director of Boston University Prison Education Program, was a featured speaker. A noted expert on the subject, Dr. Mastrorilli has over twenty-five years of experience in positions ranging from correction officer to prison administrator. Her research largely focuses on female offenders, community corrections, and law and society. She is the recipient of the Correctional Association of Massachusetts’ Professional Excellence Award, as well as the Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award given by the National Center for Women and Policing.

The University’s first prison education courses were at MCI-Norfolk by activist, BU instructor, labor organizer, and poet Elizabeth “Ma” Baker. Since its inception, more than 350 students have earned their bachelor’s degrees via BU’s Prison Education Program, with another 28 having received master’s degrees.

PBS’s “College Behind Bars” airs on WGBH November 25, at 9 p.m.