Letter to the Editor: Justice, Hiding in Plain Sight

I write with encouraging news and a call to action. At a moment when the abject failings of the criminal legal system stand in such clear and crushing relief, the Wesleyan alumni community has an opportunity to deepen its investment in justice. We can do this—directly and impactfully—by supporting Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE).

Launched in 2009, Wesleyan CPE offers a liberal arts education to incarcerated students at Cheshire Correctional Institution, a men’s high-security prison, and York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s prison for women. A flagship program of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, 250 undergraduate volunteers and 40 university faculty have joined together to offer 150 courses to over 150 incarcerated students. Notably, in May 2019, the Wesleyan Board of Trustees voted to approve a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies program for Wesleyan CPE students who have earned an Associate degree through a public-private partnership with Middlesex Community College. In Fall 2020, the Middletown campus welcomed the first released CPE student into the BLS program.

This latter piece is critical: The Wesleyan CPE community includes a growing number of students (about 63 to date) seeking to continue their liberal arts education while navigating the challenges of returning home from prison. Along with the trauma and stigma of confinement, formally incarcerated people often struggle to secure affordable housing, transportation, and employment. Add in the complexities of pursuing higher education, and it is clear why the Wesleyan CPE staff strive to support students on both sides of the prison walls.

This brings me to the alumni community, and the ways that we can support Wesleyan CPE students. Most immediately, we can contribute to a newly-established Reentry Fund, which will provide financial support to Wesleyan CPE students returning home from prison. Beyond financial assistance, we can offer CPE students the kinds of social capital and opportunities we routinely extend to Wesleyan students on the Middletown campus and recent graduates who are exploring their careers. This includes access to internships, informational interviews, networking assistance, and mentoring. If you are interested in contributing to the fund, or if you would be willing to offer these opportunities to released Wesleyan CPE students, I encourage you to reach out ASAP to Allie Cislo, Program Manager, at acislo@wesleyan.edu.

As we approach the end of 2020, it can be tough to resist feelings of fatalism, enervation, and helplessness in the face of seemingly relentless injustices. But I remain confident that the Wesleyan alumni community can persist as a force for good—especially when it comes to the criminal legal system. After all, in the words of Wesleyan’s Civic Action Plan, we are prepared to be “bold and rigorous practical idealists, thoughtful and brave participants in the public sphere.” To this end, let’s double down on justice in the here and now. Please join me in lifting up Wesleyan CPE.

Julian Adler ’02

Julian Adler ’02 is the director of policy and research at the Center for Court Innovation, and he is the co-author (with Greg Berman ’89) of Start Here: A Road Map to Reducing Mass Incarceration (The New Press). Julian is a co-chair of the advisory board for Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education.