Center for Social Concerns launches Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison initiative

Author: JP Shortall

A new college-in-prison initiative will bring five local, state and national programs together in one effort to be housed at the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns. Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (NDPEP) will offer opportunities for liberal arts education to people incarcerated in Indiana, create the infrastructure to support NDPEP participants as they re-enter their home communities and provide faculty and student opportunities for education and research on issues related to incarceration.

“NDPEP represents a wonderful way for Notre Dame to live out its Catholic mission and to be a healing and unifying force for good,” said Rev. Robert A. Dowd, C.S.C., vice president and associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at Notre Dame. “It not only provides people who are incarcerated with opportunities to learn and to chart a new way forward for their lives, but it also allows our faculty and students to apply their skills and deepen their understanding of the challenges faced by our society’s corrections system.”

NDPEP will include the Indiana Prison Liberal Arts Network (IPLAN) and Inside-Out classes, as well as research and alumni support services for the Moreau College Initiative, administrative oversight of the Women’s College Partnership and fieldwork for Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s prison programs.

“The center is focused on engaging injustice wherever it occurs, and we’ve seen for decades that it’s occurring in the U.S. prison system, so housing the network at the center makes a lot of sense,” said Suzanne Shanahan, the Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director of the Center for Social Concerns. “We’re looking forward to the rich possibilities for research and education that will grow from the move.”

The Moreau College Initiative (MCI) and the Women’s College Partnership (WCP) are liberal arts degree programs that were launched in collaboration with the national Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) and are part of the BPI Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, a network of 15 college-in-prison programs across the country. BPI was founded at Bard College in 1999 and now enrolls 300 Bard undergraduates in seven prisons in New York state.

MCI was founded in 2013 as a joint academic collaboration of the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College. Its mission is to ensure that incarcerated men in correctional facilities across Indiana have access to a world-class liberal arts education. Notre Dame and Holy Cross College faculty offer classes at Westville Correctional Facility; Holy Cross College confers the credits and degrees. To date, Holy Cross College has awarded 101 associate and 29 bachelor’s degrees. WCP launched in January 2019 in partnership with the Bard Prison Initiative, Marian University, and the Indiana Women’s Prison near Indianapolis. To date, WCP students have earned 10 associate and five bachelor’s degrees from Marian University. 

“We are excited about the potential for support that NDPEP can offer our alumni,” said Marco Clark, president of Holy Cross College. “Finding viable career options and affordable housing are just two critical needs that our returning citizens face. Identifying key constituents in regional areas across the state will afford the men of MCI and women of WCP every opportunity for success when they go home.”

In 2012, the Center for Social Concerns launched its Inside-Out class as part of the national Inside-Out program. The course offers a restorative justice approach as an alternative to the current criminal justice system. “Inside” students at Westville Correctional Facility and “outside” students from Notre Dame attend the class together at the prison.

The Shakespeare in Prisons Network was founded by Shakespeare at Notre Dame in 2013. The network’s mission is to serve as a global forum for the prison and community arts practitioner community, promote the production and study of the plays of William Shakespeare within prisons and alternative settings, and advocate on a local, national and international level on behalf of organizations engaged in arts programming for and by incarcerated and post-incarcerated populations. Locally, Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s work includes offering regular classes at the Westville Correctional Facility and at the DePaul Academy housed within the Thomas N. Frederick Center for Juvenile Justice in South Bend.

“Housing NDPEP at the Center for Social Concerns is a recognition of the impact of mass incarceration for society as a whole,” said Moreau steering committee member Anna Haskins, the Andrew V. Tackes Associate Professor of Sociology at Notre Dame. “It isn’t just an individual problem, but a broad social concern we should all care about. The center will provide a rich interdisciplinary community that unites disparate efforts across the University and state all aimed at addressing issues that stem from incarceration.”

IPLAN was created in July by the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, Marian University, and BPI to expand existing liberal arts college-in-prison programs while catalyzing new, collaborative efforts of higher education institutions across the state and around the country. It is designed to serve as a statewide training and advocacy center, as well as a national resource on higher education in prison for organizations and educational institutions.

In mid-November, the University will formally announce NDPEP’s formation, scope and resources, highlighting the integration with the Center for Social Concerns in an event with national, state and local partners.