A Transformation through Education

The Education Justice Project

Prisoners can often be given the stigma of indispensable by our society’s standards today. While the United States is #1 in number of incarcerations, where do we stand on actually reforming these individuals? On making them valuable members of society and changing them for the better?

The mission of the The Education Justice Project, also know as EJP, is build a model for in-prison education system that exemplifies the beneficial impacts of higher learning education.

When an individual’s given access to educational programming they really begin to see how valuable they are as a human being and begin to see how valuable their intellectual contributions are so that kind of when you’re granted access into that notion, they will typically want to continue to see themselves grow in that way. EJP allows these students the opportunity to TRANSFORM not only themselves but most everyone who is involved with the program. 

EJP instead of focusing on that past prides itself on focusing on the potential and not enough of that kind of focus within our criminal justice system- a lot of times because we don’t find they’re deserving of having that kind of system.

EJP Students engaging in a class assignment.
EJP Students engaging in a class assignment.

It’s been shown that having access to college courses in prisons helps them in a couple of ways, it helps to reduce the recidivism of ex-felons who are released from prison, and it also helps to give people who have studied college level courses a sense of investment in society, and what EJP has found is that these students who return to these communities as leaders and they help to make a difference in those environments.

Studies have showing higher education programs within prison drastically decrease recividism rates, so many economic opportunities are barred from so many individuals who are incarcerated, so it helps push back on these barriers or overcome them.

The Education Justice Project, EJP, also has a sister organization called the Prison Justice Project. PJP is the sister organization of EJP which has a focus on bringing awareness to issues of social justice to students on the U of I campus and the Champaign-Urbana community. PJP encourages students and the Champaign-Urbana community to be conscious of how we criminalize people without even knowing it.

Both EJP and PJP share the common value of working towards social justice issues in relation to incarceration.

I really believe that education is one of those rare things in that were given in society that no one can take away from us, no matter how much they oppress us, no matter how much they try to exploit us, and we can ALWAYS have our education.

And so I believe that is so important to give this valuable gift to the men inside Danville prison, because they are so brilliant and so ready to learn about the world and how to think about the world and really you know selfishly say I think we’re a better society if we give this gift to then men as well, so it also works towards the democratization of education and that it should really be a human right and not a privilege to have in our society and country and in the world overall.

EJP is that it’s a very radical program within a prison, because if you think about a prison, people who are in prison are given certain sentences who are judged by their past, the prison system still views them as that 18 year old although they may be as old as 40 in prison now.

 Members of EJP tirelessly work towards the democratization of education, supporting their belief that education should be a human right and not a privilege to have in our society.

For those who want to make a difference EJP encourage you to focus on their core value: shift this dialogue about people who are incarcerated.

Their goal is to transform prisons from both inside the walls and out, it hopes to change the way people think about prison. Their goal is for their students to thrive and to change their communities for the better with the unique insights they have.

A lot of what the students in EJP accomplish is because they want to and they do it themselves and their success is really their success.

In the words of Professor Hugh Bishop, “They’re there because they did horrible things and they’re undeserving to these are HUMAN BEINGS that make mistakes like everyone else and have a desire to be better.” 

EJP offers a transitive education where both the students and the instructor in ways that they may not have thought to grow before.

EJP IS A PROGRAM THAT HOPES TO HAVE A POSITIVE TRANSFORMATIVE IMPACT ON ALL those it comes across whether it’s the students, the professors, the volunteers or merely those interested in issues of social justice. EJP might make view life a little differently.

Hear how for these students self-motivation is a major factor in what pushes them to succeed and work hard.

For people who have not been exposed to the value of higher level education, there is something that is opened up to them, it is a whole new world that they’re exposed to and there is natural excitement to that. Students I have in my classes are also very interested in the subjects that we share with them, but I think because there is so much familiarity with the learning process I think that sometimes students in college classes here on campus tend to take a lot of things for granted.

While students who are in prison and exposed to college level classes, are opening themselves up to something very new something that they probably thought they never would be exposed to, so the level of excitement about that is higher and the level of engagement and the motivation they bring to it is going to be higher also because they get such joy out learning, out of learning new things, out of being exposed to new things, out of thinking differently.

Students of EJP participate in a class discussion.

Students of EJP participate in a class discussion.

Click HERE For more information on how to get involved with EJP!