Announcing the Prison Engagement Initiative

Prison Engagement Initiative web tileThis fall, the Kenan Institute for Ethics is welcoming a new program: the Prison Engagement Initiative. Under the direction of Douglas Campbell and Sarah Jobe, the Prison Engagement Initiative will bring together faculty, staff, students, and community members seeking to engage prisons, the people affected by prisons, and the politics and pathways surrounding mass incarceration.

Campbell, professor at the Duke Divinity School, and Jobe, prison chaplain and prison educator, bring over a decade of experience to this initiative. Since 2009, they have co-directed the Divinity School’s Prison Program, which offers Divinity School students the opportunity to take courses in a local prison along with people who are incarcerated there.

Both Douglas and Jobe hope the PEI will serve as a site for imagining additional possibilities for collaborations that transcend the divide between universities and prisons. “We’re both grateful and excited that Kenan will provide the resources and the space to map the work across Duke that is already being done in relation to prisons, pathways to and from prisons, and the current crisis of mass incarceration,” said Campbell. “We hope that bringing together Duke’s conversations, insights, and resources will generate new insights and constructive forms of engagement—not to mention new energy and hope—for addressing the vast and harmful dynamics of the American prison system.”

“This is the kind of project Kenan likes to support because it bridges classroom and community and draws widely on Duke’s capacity for interdisciplinary research,” said David Toole, interim director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. “It promises to bring sustained attention to a pressing societal issue in great need of solutions that challenge the status quo, the burdens of which in this case fall disproportionately on underserved communities and people of color.”

Throughout 2022–23, the Prison Engagement Initiative will convene a Strategic Listening Team to map Duke’s existing engagement in prisons, to learn about ongoing research and collaborations, to meet community partners in the Triangle area, and to envision the shape and orientation of an ongoing cross-disciplinary prison initiative at Duke University.

“We believe that by joining the knowledges of business, law, and the humanities together, we can amplify what individual scholars and programs are already doing in and around prisons,” said Jobe. “We are seeking interdisciplinary partnerships that will enable Duke students and professors from all graduate and undergraduate programs to more actively engage prisons, the pathways that lead people to prison, and life after release.”

Those with practical experience and/or academic interest in prisons are invited to email graduate assistant Meredith Manchester at meredith.manchester@duke.edu, introducing yourself and your connection to these issues.

To sign up for the PEI’s list serv, please email program coordinator Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu.