Joshua Miller (left), director of education for the Prisons and Justice Initiative and managing director for the Georgetown Pivot Program, and Marc Howard (right), director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, celebrate Georgetown Prison Scholar Jean Remarque, who received a certificate for completing the the Fall 2021 semester at the D.C. Jail.

Title:Prisons and Justice Initiative launches bachelor’s degree program

Author: Kate Colwell
Date Published: April 26, 2022

In Spring 2022, Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative launched its inaugural bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated students, a one-of-a-kind program at a four-year university. The degree-granting undergraduate program in liberal arts builds on the initiative’s success in bringing credit-bearing courses to incarcerated students at the D.C. Jail through the Prison Scholars Program.

“We’re responding to a crisis that has locked an unprecedented number of our fellow citizens behind bars when they are needed in our communities,” says Joshua Miller, who serves as assistant teaching professor in the Department of Philosophy, director of education for the Prisons and Justice Initiative, and managing director for the Georgetown Pivot Program.

Three hundred incarcerated individuals in the Maryland state prison system applied for the B.A. in liberal arts program, and 25 were selected for the first cohort through writing samples and interviews. All admitted students convene at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland, where they started the semester in COVID-19 quarantine, submitting reflections on the nature of authority and the abuse of power via paper letters to Miller, who teaches Philosophy and Intellectual History.

“They are deeply engaged with the material, and they’re finding all these connections between texts,” says Miller, as he was teaching The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant from ancient Egypt and Euthyphro from ancient Greece. “They’re doing close line-by-line analysis and finding contradictions. Any professor in the country would say, ‘that’s a fantastic class.’”

Miller’s course and Life Writing are the first two offered in the cohort model, which will expand course choices as more students join the program. Students take two four-credit, intensive courses per semester, totaling at least 30 courses in about five years. The core curriculum closely mirrors those of main campus undergraduate programs in the College, but with more intensive writing and foreign language requirements. The initiative drew from theology, philosophy, history, and political theory to form new disciplines: students can major in cultural humanities, global intellectual history, or interdisciplinary social science.

When COVID-19 conditions improved, Miller began holding class in person.

“The experience has been electric,” he says. “The students throw themselves into the work in a fantastic way that mixes joy and duty. They have this servant-leadership quality, making sure others are heard and thinking about what would be good for the cohort.”

Miller sees the cohort creating a network and feels their palpable sense of responsibility to all incarcerated individuals in Maryland. He believes that future advocates are among his students.

“The people that we work with inside of prisons are talented, capable, promising human beings,” Miller says. “They are future leaders of the civil rights struggle to end mass incarceration, and they will be solving systemic problems of injustice for decades to come.”

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