The nearly 18,000 inmates serving time in one of Washington’s state prisons are largely invisible to the public, yet the educational opportunities they do--or don’t--have access to can have far-reaching consequences for them and society at large.
Early childhood and family studies majors Julie Campos and Kimberley Banks were among the University of Washington undergraduates who explored those opportunities and consequences during the summer course “In Your Name: Education Inside Prison.”
The Interdisciplinary Honors course gave Campos and Banks an opportunity to visit local non-profit organizations involved in prison education and work directly with inmates involved in the educational Bridges to HOPE program at the Monroe Correctional Complex’s Twin Rivers Unit (TRU). UW students partnered with TRU students to craft comprehensive proposals for sustainable projects that could be implemented to help increase offender success and lower recidivism.
This year’s projects focused on utilizing the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey (ACES) to enhance resiliency in prisoners; crafting an educational program entitled “Reintegration Skills” for inmates about to be released; and building community outreach and awareness about the needs of re-integrating ex-prisoners into society.
Banks, an aspiring teacher, knows that in her future career she may be serving children who have family members either currently or previously incarcerated.
“It is essential to at least understand a fraction of what they’ve been through,” Banks said. “We’ve identified that having an incarcerated parent can bring up risks for that child. So, if you can learn how to better serve the parent, you’re talking about healthier families for healthier children.”
Campos noted that her view of inmates changed dramatically as a result of working with students at TRU.
“I was not expecting so much passion from the students, and so much ambition to make better choices in prison,” Campos said. “We’ve talked about resiliency and early childhood experiences and how important those are.”
Sylvia Bagley, director of teacher leadership programs at the UW College of Education, participated in some of this summer’s course and said it offered an invaluable perspective on an often overlooked aspect of education across the spectrum of human experience.
“Our obligation to serve our state and country through public education doesn’t end when individuals enter prison gates,” Bagley said. “Prisoners, like all citizens, need the opportunity to continue their education--and all children deserve parents who are as well-equipped as possible to return to them and live healthy lives. We won’t break the relentless cycles of poverty and incarceration until we’re willing to look at how we’re educationally serving all individuals in all circumstances.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications