The Tufts University Prison Initiative of the Tisch College of Civic Life (TUPIT) brings Tufts faculty and students together with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, educators, organizers, corrections staff, and scholars of criminal justice to facilitate creative and collaborative responses to the problems of mass incarceration and racial injustice. Extending the vision of Tufts University and Tisch College, TUPIT is dedicated to providing transformative educational experiences that foster student, faculty, and community members’ capacities to become active citizens of change in the world.

This program has given me the greatest gift I have ever received: hope. Hope for a life outside of prison. Hope for a life outside of poverty. Hope for a life free of abuse. Hope for a life of passion and expectation. Hope for life, period.
Nate, TUPIT student at MCI-Concord

Our students’ powerful dedication to the program, even within an extraordinarily challenging learning environment, creates a truly transformational learning community for all of us. It becomes a home for people within the prison, and, for many, the basis of a new way of thinking about oneself, one’s life and future.
Hilary Binda, Director of TUPIT

What We Do

  1. We teach a cohort of students at MCI-Concord in our degree program.
  2. We provide resources and courses to returning citizens as part of MyTERN, a 4-course Civic Studies certificate program for people directly impacted by the carceral system.
  3. We join students from the Tufts campus with those in prison to offer a unique learning environment in our Inside/Out program.
  4. And we educate our on-campus community through symposia, films, and a speakers series.

TUPIT continually seeks new ways to pair Tufts’ educational resources with communities impacted by the carceral systemLearn more about the transformative power of higher education in and after prison.

Who We Are

Led by Director Hilary Binda, Tufts Faculty (from our different schools) have taught in TUPIT programs.

On-campus Tufts students and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people participate.

We work in partnership with external community organizations, helping to embed TUPIT’s work at Tufts within Boston-area communities.

Learn more about our Leadership Team and Partners.

How We Got Started

In 2016, Hilary Binda transformed her experiences working with youth and adults in prison into a college in prison program through the critical support of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the University Office of the Provost. Tisch College and Tufts University have supported the program through various grant programs, enabling Binda to extend a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, develop the program team, establish the degree behind bars program in conjunction with partner school Bunker Hill Community College, and recruit Tufts faculty to teach in the program. She simultaneously inaugurated what has become a regular Tufts Inside-Out course with the support of the MA DOC and Suffolk County facilities.

Over subsequent years, and after receiving several generous external grants and many individual donations, the Degree Program expanded organically to include the Tufts Education Re-entry Network (TERN) and through this group developed MyTERN, a year-long certificate program in Civic Studies that has enabled TUPIT to serve its students coming home from prison as well as a wider community of people directly impacted by the carceral system. This hybrid re-entry college program draws on the enormous resources of community organizational partners such as Project Place, the Boston Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, and Dorchester Bay Community Development Corporation, to name only a few. MyTERN incorporates numerous Tufts on-campus students as participants, adapting much of the philosophy of Inside-Out.  Learn more about our Partners, Supporters and how you can get involved.

Why are College in Prison and College after Prison so important?

Many studies have shown that completing college programming while in prison is a game changer. In addition to increasing the likelihood of an individual’s basic survival through decreased recidivism and increased employability, participating in college classes encourages the development of self-esteem, empathy, curiosity, and the critical capacity for collaboration, all of constitute the foundation for civic leadership.

The National Institute of Justice reports that more than 75% of people currently released from state prisons are reincarcerated within five years. Studies have shown, however, that college-in-prison programming has been vital for increasing the health and well-being of incarcerated individuals and their communities. A 2013 report from the RAND Corporation found that any formal education in prison reduces recidivism by at least 43% – and increases employment by 13%. Studies that focus on the impact of college education (versus high school or vocational education) have consistently found that the recidivism rate for these individuals drops below 10% and that for those who earn a college degree, the rate at which people return to prison is somewhere between 0-2%. Our own study with formerly incarcerated people who had done college programs while serving time, “You’re Almost in this Place that Doesn’t Exist” also gathered evidence of benefits beyond the anti-recidivism effect in the area of self-concept and also provided some best practices for college in prison programs. The study, entitled “Changing Minds: The Impact of College in a Maximum Security Prison” additionally found that college in prison programs save taxpayer dollars and reduce the costs and burdens of prison management for state departments of correction by reducing violence in prison.

Many people with lived experience of incarceration know well what scholars and policy makers have identified as the multiple challenges faced by people post-incarceration, including lack of employment and educational opportunities, psychological trauma, poverty, and a lack of self-efficacy and confidence from the status of having been incarcerated. Nearly two-thirds of people released from state prisons are re-arrested and nearly half return to prison within three years of release, either for violations of parole conditions or for being prosecuted for new crimes (Durose et al. 2014).

Additional challenges to successful re-entry include: barriers to employment and the lack of a high school degree or equivalent; substance abuse and mental illness (Petersilia 2003; James and Glaze 2016); the return to communities typically characterized by high rates of poverty (Travis & Petersilia 2001); and the feeling of stigma and demoralization resulting from the status of having been incarcerated. Re-entry programs, therefore, must address these obstacles holistically, offering educational opportunities while attending to and supporting individual well-being through partnerships with skilled re-entry service providers like those that contribute to TUPIT programs.