Vermont Professors Aiming To Teach, Educate Inmates
Courses Also To Be Available to Inmates after Release
When professors begin offering the first courses at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington next spring, the school will be participating in the Consortium of the Liberal Arts in Prison, a program that originated at New York’s Bard College that’s been expanded to include several other colleges and universities across the country.
“I do think that the Bard experience has really shown there is tremendous untapped potential languishing in prisons that can be really harnessed for something beyond the prison,” said Vermont sociology professor Kathy Fox, who is leading the school’s liberal arts and prison program. She’s teaching a pilot course this semester.
As an example, Fox pointed to the much-publicized 2015 case of a Bard prison debate team defeating an undergraduate debate team from Harvard University.
Vermont Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard said her department is also working with the Community College of Vermont to provide courses for inmates in prison after release. Most prison education programs focus on ensuring inmates get their high school degrees and vocational training rather than college liberal arts courses, she said.
“It’s going to give a lot of people exposure to an opportunity they may not have known they would ever have,” said Menard. “It may be something they have never thought about doing until this opportunity came along. It will prepare them better should they decide to continue their education after they’re released into the community.”
Meanwhile, Bennington College has been working on a separate prison program, launched in the fall at 2015 at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York.
While details aren’t yet final, Fox said the courses offered would be a mix of math, science and humanities that a student would need to transfer the credits if they chose to continue with college after being released from prison. They’ll start offering the courses at the women’s prison in South Burlington, but that could expand over time to other facilities.
“Bard and a bunch of other schools have had amazing success teaching classics and mythology and some of those tragedies and stories about heroes, honor,” said Fox, who has been teaching a course about justice in the current semester to 10 inmates at the South Burlington and 10 UVM students. “Those actually translate really well in a prison context.”