The Tufts University Prison Initiative of the Tisch College of Civic Life (TUPIT) brings Tufts University 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.

What we do

  1. TWO DEGREES OFFERED IN PRISON We provide the opportunity to earn an associate degree in the Liberal Arts and a bachelor’s degree in Civic Studies through courses taught by Tufts professors for incarcerated people admitted to the Tufts programs in maximum, medium and minimum security facilities at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, MCI-Concord, and Northeastern Correctional Center.
  2. MyTERN REENTRY & RESTORATIVE JUSTICE COLLEGE PROGRAM Through the Tufts Education & Reentry Network program MyTERN, the Tufts University Prison Initiative (TUPIT) provides college and reentry resources as part of a restorative justice program for returning citizens. This program runs on the Tufts main campus and offers a 14-credit Civic Studies certificate program for people directly impacted by the carceral system. MyTERN students are those who want to pursue higher education while receiving reentry support in technology and financial literacy as well as employment and housing. Run according to restorative practices, MyTERN students engage in a formal experience with and training in restorative justice circle keeping in partnership with the Transformational Prison Project, Responsible Party, and Legacy Lives On.
  3. LEARNING ACROSS SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL DIFFERENCES We join students from the Tufts University Medford campus with those in prison to offer a unique learning environment in our Inside-Out program.
  4. INVITATIONS TO LEARN THROUGH PUBLIC EVENTS  And we educate our on-campus community through symposia, films, and regular speaker events.
TUPIT continually seeks new ways to pair Tufts University’s educational resources with communities heavily impacted by the carceral system.

How we got started

In 2016, Hilary Binda transformed her years of experiences working with youth and adults in prisons and schools into a college-in-prison program through a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC). With the critical support of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the University Office of the Provost, the university supported the program through various grants, enabling Binda to develop the program team within and beyond Tufts, grow the partnership with the MADOC, and establish a program offering two degrees behind bars – one through Tufts University and the other in partnership with Bunker Hill Community College. The TUPIT team simultaneously inaugurated an on-going inside-out course with the support of the MADOC 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 & Reentry Network program 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 state. This reentry college program draws on the enormous resources of community organizational partners such as the Transformational Prison Project, Responsible Parties, North Suffolk Community Services, Project Place, the Boston Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, Working Credit, 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.

Importance of college in prison

Studies have shown that completing college programming while in prison increases the likelihood of an individual’s basic survival through decreased recidivism and increased employability. Participating in college classes also encourages the development of self-esteem, empathy, curiosity, and the critical capacity for collaboration.

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 TUPIT study with formerly incarcerated people who had done college programs while serving time, “You’re Almost in this Place that Doesn’t Exist” 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. MyTERN, TUPIT’s reentry program, provides essential tools to reentry as well as a community of belonging for our students coming home.