Lang Prison Initiative

Punishment and detention powerfully shape our society, including our academic institutions. After legislation was passed in the early 1990s ending Pell Grant awards to persons who are incarcerated, many college prison programs folded. However, studies have shown that tertiary education is both cost-effective and reduces recidivism by 40%. As an institution committed to inclusion, justice, and diversity with significant past involvement with prison education, Lang seeks an answer to the question of how we can best be responsibly and productively involved with these issues.

In spring 2018, Lang piloted a course at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal facility located in downtown Manhattan that houses men and women accused of federal crimes or serving short-term sentences. This is the first time MCC has opened its doors to a college, and Lang’s class will mark the first college course offering in a federal prison in New York’s history.

The New School has both created its own prison education programs and engaged with outside partners who do this work. Prior to the closure of the Arthur Kill State Prison Facility on Staten Island in 2011, Lang ran a three-year prison education program, waiving tuition fees for incarcerated students. The Mellon-funded Humanities Action Lab’s (HAL) States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories, a national collaboration of 20 universities to generate shared curricula, public and digital humanities projects, and university-based public events on the history and legacies of mass incarceration, originated at The New School and remains a partner moving forward. The Institute of Transformative Mentoring (ITM), run by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School’s Schools of Public Engagement, offers a 15-week course for Credible Messengers, formerly incarcerated and justice-involved people with prior felony convictions who build relationships with and mentor youth away from dangerous behavior in their roles as employees of New York City social service organizations. ITM has worked with more than 60 credible messengers served to date from over 20 organizations.

Zisan Ugurlu, Associate Professor of Theater, who taught in the original Lang Prison Initiative and is eager to have the opportunity to teach inside again, will teach Lang’s pilot course at MCC. In fall 2018, we anticipate building on this pilot class by running another class solely for MCC students, along with one combined class, bringing Lang students to MCC to engage in classes along with incarcerated students. We believe these classes will not only affect the professors and students who have their classes inside, but will build a culture of restorative justice and compassion that is essential to social justice work.

This pilot project is made possible by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation.