Professors lecture at Adult Correctional Institutions

It’s not often that Professor of Economics Glenn Loury has to navigate the exercise yard of a prison.

But he did last week when he visited the Adult Correctional Institutions to deliver a lecture to a group of 20 inmates as part of the Brown Education Link Lecture Series, a program that began this month.

A collaboration between the University and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, the lecture series brings Brown professors to the ACI over the course of the semester to conduct lectures revolving around social issues that fall under the topic “Questions of Citizenship.”

The program, created by Jonathan Coleman ‘08.5, a literary arts concentrator, currently has seven lectures scheduled for the semester. Each week, professors from various departments volunteer to deliver two-hour lectures and lead discussions at the ACI.

Coleman said he came up with the idea for the lecture series this summer after working at the ACI for three years in the Space in Prison for the Arts and Creative Expression program – a Swearer Center for Public Service initiative in which inmates participate in creative arts workshops. He collaborated with Ariel Werner ’09, a coordinator of the SPACE program, on the project to get the Swearer Center and the University involved at the prison.

Coleman said he accompanies the professors to each lecture as part of a deal with the ACI. Normally, volunteers have to undergo six hours of training, but because he is present, that training for the professors is waived, he said.

The program is modeled after a similar collaborative program involving professors at Grinnell College in Iowa, Coleman said.

The 20 inmates were pre-screened for the program, based on interest and their institutional record, said Tracey Poole, chief of information and public relations for the Department of Corrections.

Most of the inmates have previously participated in the SPACE program and demonstrated interest in their education, Poole said. They are required to complete assigned readings before each lecture, she added.

Public perception of inmates is that they’re illiterate, but some are “well-read, thoughtful, intelligent people,” Poole said.

Loury said the program was a “wonderful experience,” adding that he found the inmates to be “well informed and articulate,” and able to tackle theoretical questions.

His lecture was on inequality in America, particularly the “inequality of status” – a subject Loury said made the inmates sit on the “edge of their chairs.” He said he encouraged active participation and discussion to avoid simply lecturing the prisoners.

Currently, the program is scheduled to run until Dec. 8, and Coleman said he already has about 10 interested professors for the spring semester. There are no current plans to expand the program, but Coleman said he hopes ultimately the University will establish a credit-bearing degree program in the prison. Poole said she is unsure how long the program will continue, but like Coleman, hopes to at least continue the program as it is in the future.

After Coleman graduates this December, the Swearer Center will hire another student to manage the lecture series, Poole said.