Tufts partners with Bunker Hill Community College to educate incarcerated men

Faculty member Hilary Binda introduces panelists during the second day of Tufts University Prison Symposium: The Responsibility of Engagement.(Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College (TUPIT) has partnered with Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) to give men who are incarcerated at MCI-Concord the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree. TUPIT is a program of the Tisch College of Civic Life.

TUPIT’s Founding Director of Educational Programming Hilary Binda, a senior lecturer in Visual and Critical studies, said that this is the first semester of the collaboration.

“The goal is to create a college-in-prison that is ongoing, where people at MCI-Concord, if not also at other correctional facilities eventually, will earn a college degree in the liberal arts,” Binda said. “We really hope to make a difference for individuals and to be part of what is now a movement for prison education, specifically college-in-prison programming.”

She said the program which will run in three-and-a-half-year cycles. 

TUPIT is not the first initiative of its kind, Binda said. 

“We are by no means at the beginning of this movement, but TUPIT — including our partnership with Bunker Hill Community College — is a leader in Massachusetts, along with Boston University, Emerson College and Mount Wachusett Community College,” she said. 

According to Binda, the 24 cohorts from MCI-Concord have already been selected. She explained that the process began with two information sessions held at the prison, which any and all people incarcerated at MCI-Concord were welcome to attend. The minimum requirement for participation in the program is a GED or high school equivalency. Those interested were tested extensively in English and math, then invited to committee interviews with Tufts faculty.

The program orientation is scheduled for Feb. 12, with 18 senior administrators from BHCC and Tufts in attendance, Binda said. 

Binda said that the project is impactful for the Tufts community. 

“We started this with the support of the Tisch College of Civic Life as a way of extending or leveraging the Tufts name in the interest of a powerful form of community engagement that impacts meaningfully a population that very few others reach,” Binda said. “We also do this work at Tufts as a way of helping to raise awareness on our campuses about mass incarceration and as a way of creating a new kind of transformational educational opportunity for our students.”

TUPIT already offers college credit via the “Mass Incarceration and the Literature of Confinement” class, an Inside-Out course taught by Binda which offers college credit to Tufts and incarcerated students. Tufts students apply to be one of ten to attend class in prison alongside ten people who are incarcerated, Binda said.

Noah Mills, a first-year who took the class, said he is excited about the extended educational reach of the TUPIT program and its partnership with BHCC. 

“I’m super excited for the program. I think it’s important that Tufts really keeps branching out into the community and trying to contribute as much as it can,” Mills said.

Binda cited a RAND Corporation meta-analysis to emphasize the effectiveness of college-in-prison programs.  

“We know from the RAND study of 2013 that any educational experiences while serving time decreases people’s likelihood of returning to prison by 43 percent. Many studies have shown that people who receive college credentials, who get an actual degree in prison, simply don’t come back,” Binda said.

Binda elaborated on the impact of college education initiatives on the lives of people serving different sentence lengths.

“The recidivism rate for these people is close to zero percent,” Binda said. “However, it is important to remember that some people are serving life sentences and will not be released; the joy of learning is vitally important for that population as well.”

Mills explained what he hoped TUPIT would achieve for the incarcerated participants.

“I hope that it will enable the incarcerated people in the program to be able to reduce their sentences or have more opportunity,” Mills said. “I hope it will help them see their true creative and intellectual potential.” 

Mills said he will continue his involvement with TUPIT this spring through helping with fundraising and creating promotional videos.  

Senior Maddie Maider, another former Inside-Out student at Tufts, also said she hopes to further her involvement with TUPIT’s new program. As a graduate student next year at the Tufts University School of Medicine, she plans on helping fundraise and raise awareness on campus.

“The impact truly is endless,” Maider said. “There’s been a lot of research done on the rates of reoffending and the impact education can have on reducing those rates.”

Binda said that students can become involved by attending the meetings of the TUPIT student committee, tutoring and serving as teaching assistants for the classes by volunteering with non-profit Petey Greene, attending the prison education symposium and taking the class.