Philosophy can and should give people the tools with which to sharpen their minds for the better.
Since 2013 the Crito Project – a charitable outreach programme based out of the University of East Anglia – has worked to deliver those tools into the hands of incarcerated students across five different prisons. In that time we have taught over 600 hours of face-to-face philosophy classes, delivered at the same kind of level that our students on campus can expect. The nature of consciousness, the fundaments of a meaningful life and the rules of logic & argument, for example, are all fields that can transform our understanding of ourselves and the universe around us, and lead us to a new kind of coherent, reflective life. They are subjects that can revolutionise our views on the world and our place within it.
Freedom of thought, close textual analysis, and our students’ development of their own novel philosophical responses have been our first priorities. But until very recently, we haven’t been able to offer tangible, real-world rewards for our students’ hard work. Now, in a ground-breaking new agreement, the UEA is piloting a fully accredited series of modules, taken directly from its Philosophy Department’s first-year curriculum, preceded by a year-long preparation for studying higher education. The Crito Project is pushing new boundaries in the UK in making a sustained programme of accredited higher education available to its students.
The Crito Project proceeds from two key beliefs:
1) That education is the most cost-effective and successful mode of reform available to our society (we believe this to be an uncontroversial truth that too often goes unappreciated), and
2) That universities have a real duty to seek out students in unconventional settings, specifically those whose lives stand at critical junctures, and who can benefit the most from access to the rigour, reflection and qualifications that higher learning brings about.
In New York State, Bard College has run a prisoner degree program for twenty years. In that time over 400 inmates have graduated with honours and 2000 with Associate Degrees. One aspect of this remarkable achievement that has garnered a lot of attention is that, amongst its graduates, the rate of recidivism has dropped from the state-average of 63% to just under 2%. Bard College's success is not only a paradigm in the feasibility of delivering a degree level education within a prison environment, but also a startling testament to the power of higher education to transform people's lives for the better.
Higher education in prison should not be seen solely through the lens of recidivism, however. The Crito Project's mission is to bring lasting and positive reform to the opportunities to be found in our prisons. We want to provide a first-class education to incarcerated students, as a means to achieving the only type of reform that is real and lasting, and common to everyone: reform on the level of an individual's concepts, self-esteem and life opportunities.