Who We Are
We are educators, first and foremost, who believe in the transformative power of a liberal arts education. Spearheaded by Director Kathy Fox, and housed in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at the University of Vermont (UVM), the Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) is a demonstration of the University’s commitment to its land-grant mission as well as our active engagement in social justice.
Our work is guided by the Bard Prison Initiative’s Consortium of Liberal Arts in Prison. UVM is the first public institution and the first land-grant university to join the Consortium. Other member schools include Wesleyan, Notre Dame, Grinnell, Goucher, and Washington University.
What We Do
In partnership with the Vermont Department of Corrections, we are building a college-in-prison program in the state of Vermont. The courses will be taught by College of Arts and Sciences faculty members. The 3-credit classes will follow the UVM semester schedule, will meet several times a week, and with the exception of location will mirror all other aspects and standards of traditional college courses. The academic subjects will include introductory courses that fulfill customary general education requirements at most institutions, and will prepare and position incarcerated citizens to further their education upon release.
CAS launched the initiative with a Spring 2017 pilot course that enrolled 10 UVM students (for credit) and 10 inmates (non-credit), offered in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. In Spring 2018 CAS will offer a small number of courses for credit inside two Vermont correctional facilities (initially, we will be serving incarcerated individuals in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and Northwest Regional Correctional Facility). Additional courses will be added over time, as funding allows, with the goal of offering ten courses annually.
UVM LAPP relies on external funding from philanthropic foundations and individuals.
Why We Do It
We believe in the power of education. Vermont citizens inside correctional facilities have the same potential for achievement, creativity and innovation as those on the outside, and they are entitled to opportunities to improve their lives. Until the 1980s, higher education was routinely offered in prisons. A shortsighted policy decision making offenders ineligible for Pell grants eliminated this opportunity. We believe in the return of this priority. Vermont spends $65,000 per year per in-state inmate, more than four times what it spends per K-12 pupil. We are investing vast sums of money in a correctional system that has the potential to deliver better results. Investing in programs that support the success of the 95% of incarcerated citizens who will eventually be released from prison supports and empowers individuals, makes good fiscal sense, and improves the safety of our communities.
UVM Student Involvement
LAPP represents an extraordinary learning opportunity for UVM students and incarcerated citizens alike. UVM students will have opportunities to participate as classmates, mentors, tutors, and remedial educators. They will experience the criminal justice system from a unique vantage point, and will have first-hand interaction with incarcerated citizens. Not only will this add a unique and important element to their educational experience, it will also inform and influence their perspectives and decisions as future voters, hiring officials, and policy makers.
The Liberal Arts in Prison Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Vermont was established on March 20, 2017, when the university joined the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison at the invitation of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). To commemorate the event, Daniel Karpowitz, director of policy and academics at BPI, visited UVM and delivered a talk to more than 200 faculty, staff, students, and community members. Karopwitz told the story of how the Bard Prison Initiative grew from a small pilot project to a national network, and read from his book College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration. LAPP is the result of the long-time efforts of UVM Professor Kathryn Fox, and her more recent collaboration with assistant provost Kerry Castano and associate dean Patty Corcoran. Fox, LAPP’s inaugural director, made an initial foray into prison education in Vermont with her spring 2017 course taught in a local correctional facility and enrolling UVM undergraduates and including incarcerated citizens.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does UVM care about education in Vermont prisons?
First and foremost, because we’re educators who believe in the transformative power of higher education.
Beyond that, Vermont spends $65,000 per year per in-state inmate, more than four times what it spends per K-12 pupil. The recidivism rate in the state, while better than the national average of 60%, has hovered at about 45% for the last decade. Incarcerated citizens who are released with a high school education have a recidivism rate of 24%. The rate drops to 10% with two years of college, and to about 5% with four years of college.
Vermont, like the rest of the nation, is investing vast sums of money in a correctional system that has the potential to deliver better results.
Is the state appropriation that UVM receives being used to pay for this program?
No. Fundraising efforts for the program are under way. We’ll be seeking funding from foundations and other philanthropic entities that have a commitment to criminal and social justice efforts. We’ll also seek funding from organizations that support innovative educational programs.
Is this program free for people in prison?
The people in prison, many of whom are low income Vermonters, will receive tuition assistance via the funds we raise to support the program.
What does UVM do to support low-income Vermonters who aren’t in prison?
UVM’s commitment to low income Vermonters is significant. Pell-eligible dependent Vermonters currently pay no tuition to attend UVM. Beginning in the Fall of 2017 they will also pay no comprehensive or acceptance fees. About 40% of Vermonters who attend UVM attend tuition free.
Will people in prison be able to earn degrees through this program?
As currently structured, the program will offer introductory courses that fulfill customary general education requirements, and will prepare and position incarcerated citizens to further their education upon release.
Shouldn’t people in prison be punished? Why are they being rewarded with education?
The prison sentence/loss of liberty is the punishment set forth by the state. Incarcerated citizens are not further obligated to forfeit opportunities for growth and development as part of their punishment.
Wouldn’t people in prison be better off with GED’s and a trade?
Vermont citizens inside correctional facilities have the same potential for achievement, creativity and innovation as those on the outside. For some, a GED and vocational education are a good fit, and those opportunities are available in Vermont prisons. For others, the pursuit of higher education is the right fit, and we believe those opportunities should be available as well. We don’t recommend pre-determining or limiting educational opportunities or aspirations of any Vermonter.
Why the liberal arts and not a more “practical” curriculum?
A liberal arts education is of significant value. Its attributes include critical and comparative thinking, effective communication, problem solving, and creativity – skills and abilities that are timeless, and applicable to virtually every aspect of an individual’s personal and professional life.
Is there any community benefit to doing a program like this?
95% of incarcerated citizens are eventually released from prison. We should invest in programs that support their success upon release. Research shows that for every dollar invested in higher education for people in prison, there is a net $2 societal benefit. In addition, the Bard Prison Initiative, which has been operating for 15 years, finds that only 4% of their graduating students return to prison, compared to the typical 50-60%. Thus, providing college courses can save the state the expense of housing, feeding, and caring for inmates, while improving the odds of returning citizens becoming successful, crime-free, tax-paying members of society.
Spring Semester 2017: Professor Kathy Fox offers a sociology course at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility including both UVM students and incarcerated citizens
March 20, 2017: UVM joins the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison
April 7, 2017: LAPP awarded a grant from the James M. Jeffords Fund Grant Program for Policy Studies
May 12, 2017: LAPP awarded a grant from the Bishop Joyce Fund
Broadening the academic conversation to new minds and voices
"In the 2018 spring semester, I served as a teaching assistant in a mythology course. This course was offered in a women’s prison as part of UVM’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program, directed by prof. Kathy Fox. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I thought I might gain teaching experience and I was glad to give back to the community. This became far more than a volunteer experience: I gained compassion for the incarcerated and their families, a new outlook on the classroom, and even increased familiarity with Greek and Latin mythology. We read foundational works of mythology, such as Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Odyssey, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and students were held to the same standards as those on campus. . . . Seeing these women continue their education and critically engage with primary and secondary source materials, even under the constraints of the prison environment, reinforced the value of opening the broader academic conversation to new minds and voices. Learning does not need to be confined to the traditional lecture hall, and studying classics has lasting value academically, personally, and professionally that applies beyond the bounds of a four-year undergraduate career." - Tessie Sakai '18