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The Prison Engagement Initiative is an interdisciplinary network of faculty, staff, students, and community members based at Duke University committed to engaging prisons, the people affected by prisons, and the politics and pathways surrounding mass incarceration.

The Prison Engagement Initiative offers ways for faculty, staff, and students across Duke to shape relational networks of learning and change with people impacted by prison. It aims to transform perspectives, approaches, and practices surrounding incarceration as well as the relationship between universities and prisons.

In 2022–23, we convened a Strategic Listening Team to map Duke’s existing engagement in prisons, to learn about each other’s work, 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.

Cross-Duke PEI Network

At the end of 2023, PEI launched four efforts—in prison education, undergraduate education, hiring, and restorative justice—each with a goal to impact how Duke engages prisons and the criminal legal system. Read more in the dropdown section on “efforts.”

Directors

Douglas Campbell

Douglas Campbell is co-director of the Prison Engagement Initiative. He is a Professor of New Testament at the Divinity School, where he has co-directed the Prison Program since 2009. The Program’s Certificate in Prison Studies educates students into the dynamics of mass incarceration and responsible prison engagement intellectually, emotionally, and practically. It includes participation within in-prison courses, a mentored prison-related internship, and a formational process addressing the burnout and distress that prolonged engagements with carceral facilities often elicit. Campbell is trained in restorative justice practices (RJ) that address harm in an alternative way to the current, predominantly punitive responses. He lectures and publishes on the connections between biblical interpretation, theological paradigms, human affects and emotions, and the advocacy of punishment and incarceration. He has led a retraining program for correctional officers in U.S. Marshals and ICE facilities in Texas and New Mexico. He and his spouse have been personally involved in prison visitation and prisoner support since 2005.

Headshot of James Chappel.

James Chappel is co-director of the Prison Engagement Initiative. He is the Gilhuly Family Associate Professor of History at Duke University. His first book, Catholic Modern (2018) was a prizewinning account of the twentieth-century Catholic Church and its engagement with fascism, Communism, and liberalism. He is currently working on a project about the history of health, disability, and aging in the United States. He taught in Butner Prison in the Spring of 2022, and found the experience so inspirational that he is seeking to bring more of the Duke community to that experience. He has significant administrative experience across the university, having served on the Academic Programs Committee, the Executive Committee of the Arts and Sciences Council, the Curriculum Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute. He is also serving as the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History.

Graduate Assistant

Meredith Manchester

Meredith Manchester is the graduate assistant for the Prison Engagement Initiative. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2014 with a BA in International Relations and a Certificate in Urban Studies focusing on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. She attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law where she gained hands-on experience advocating for those entangled in the system—young males in Philadelphia being targeted as gang members, a man sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile, and individuals reentering society after spending a significant amount of time in federal custody. She worked as an assistant public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, representing indigent Philadelphians in numerous bail motions, violation of probation/detainer hearings, motions to suppress, and trials. In July 2022, she left the Defender Association to attend Duke Divinity School, where she is pursuing a Master of Divinity and is eager to explore the intersection between Christian theology and criminal justice reform.

Members

In 2023-4, the Prison Engagement Initiative continues to gather Duke faculty, staff, and graduate students with practical experience or academic interest in prisons to be part of a team meeting monthly throughout the academic year. This team will continue to map Duke’s existing engagement with prisons and engage community partners in the Triangle area. If you are interested in becoming a part of this team and can commit to the lunchtime meetings listed below, please email meredith.manchester@duke.edu introducing yourself and your connection to these issues.

The Prison Engagement Initiative will meet for Wednesday lunchtime meetings from 12:30 – 2:00pm on the following dates in the Academic Year 2023–24:

  • September 13
  • October 11
  • November 8
  • December 13
  • January 17
  • February 14
  • March 20
  • April 10
  • May 8

The Prison Engagement Initiative’s four efforts strategically drive forward our mission to transform the criminal legal system and how Duke engages it.

Undergraduate Education

We are working to prepare a Certificate in Carceral Studies. There is not currently a curricular offering for students interested in this topic, even though there are many courses on it across campus. It is our ambition to give students an interdisciplinary expertise in the phenomenon of mass incarceration. We are also committed to giving students an actual experience of the system. This could be done by taking a course in prison and learning alongside incarcerated students; it could also involve work with re-entry organizations or restorative justice programs. If approved, we hope to launch the Certificate in Spring 2025.

Prison Education 

We have two groups focused on prison education: The Piedmont Prison Consortium and Duke-in-Prison. Our ultimate goal is to provide a degree-granting pathway for incarcerated students in central North Carolina.

The Piedmont Prison Consortium (PPC), launched in January 2024. The PPC is a consortium of five universities: Duke, NCSU, NCCU, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UNC-Greensboro. These universities—all members of an existing inter-institutional credit sharing agreement—would each participate in the formation and administration of a degree-granting program in a prison in the region. Representatives from each university as well as an advisory committee of formerly incarcerated people meet regularly. 

Duke-in-Prison, launched in February 2024, is a group of Duke faculty and graduate students committed to offering Arts & Sciences courses to incarcerated students as part of the degree program. Because this effort requires quite some time, Duke-in-Prison intends to offer other kinds of educational enrichment in correctional facilities in the interim. In Fall 2025, we plan to deliver a lecture series in FCI Butner. We are also exploring reading groups, workshops, and other forms of educational enrichment in other facilities. Please write to Alex Gibbons at alexandra.gibbons@duke.edu if you would like to join Duke-in-Prison.

Hiring 

Our hiring effort is dedicated to the improvement of Duke’s hiring practices in relation to justice-involved people. It seeks to build on Duke’s existing values, commitments, and strengths by promoting a clear, fair, and constructive, policy, at every level, in the hiring and support of justice-impacted people.

Restorative Justice

Our effort on restorative justice is dedicated to the promotion of a restorative culture at Duke at every level—among faculty, staff, students, and community partners. A restorative culture is a response to the infliction of harm that does no further harm; rather, it invites both those harming and those harmed to restore, to heal, and to transform, their damaged relationships through the practice of restorative justice. (The dominant current response to harm—”retributive” or “punitive”—proceeds by inflicting further harm.) The promotion of a restorative culture takes place through education into and the adoption of the principles, programs, and practices of restorative justice.

The Prison Engagement Initiative hosts a newsletter sent out on Fridays that shares events and programming related to prisons and incarceration at Duke and in Durham. If you would like to have an event featured, please let us know as far in advance as possible. Contact program coordinator Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu if you would like to sign up for the PEI newsletter or make submissions.

The Prison Engagement Initiative hopes to centralize communication and engagement on restorative justice at Duke. Here, you’ll find events related to restorative justice across campus.

Past events

November 2023

The following series of events will be held as part of the School–Prison Pipeline Education Initiative, organized by PEI graduate assistant Meredith Manchester and cosponsored by the Prison Studies Certificate at DDS, the Center for Reconciliation at DDS, PJAC at DDS, the Duke Justice Project, and the NLG–local chapter.

MON NOV 6

Info Session: NC Public School Crisis and How You Can Help 

led by Rev Suzanne Parker Miller of Pastors for NC Kids 

11:30 – 12:30pm
0012 Westbrook, Duke Divinity School

Lunch provided for those who register

SAT NOV 11

Restorative Justice: An Alternative to Harmful Disciplinary Actions Against Youth

led by Joy Clark, Esq. and Monica Veno, Esq. 

focusing on the public school system and NC juvenile detention facilities 

9:00am – 12:00pm

Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School  

MON NOV 13

Panel on the NC School–Prison Pipeline: From the Classroom to the Courtroom 

4:00 – 5:30pm

Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

Panelists: Eriz Zogry, Esq., State Juvenile Defender, NC; Carlton Powell, Esq., NC Legal Aid Right to Education Project; Peggy Nicholson, Esq., Children’s Law Clinic at Duke Law; Jon Powell, Esq., RJ Clinic at Campbell Law; Rev Suzanne Parker of Pastors for NC Kids.

For more information about these events, email prisonjusticeactioncomittee@div.duke.edu.

Anker, A. S. T., and C. Wildeman. “Family Visitation Patterns during Incarceration in Denmark.” Journal of Family Issues 42, no. 12 (December 1, 2021): 2811–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X21991187.

Brew, B., F. Alani, A. Li, and C. Wildeman. “Sticky Stigma: The Impact of Incarceration on Perceptions of Personality Traits and Deservingness.” Social Forces 100, no. 4 (June 1, 2022): 1910–34. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soab091.

Campbell, D. A. “Mass incarceration: Pauline problems and pauline solutions.” Interpretation (United Kingdom) 72, no. 3 (July 1, 2018): 282–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020964318766297.

Carda-Auten, Jessica, Elena A. Dirosa, Catherine Grodensky, Kathryn M. Nowotny, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, Debbie Travers, Mersedes Brown, Steve Bradley-Bull, Colleen Blue, and David L. Rosen. “Jail Health Care in the Southeastern United States From Entry to Release.” The Milbank Quarterly, May 3, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0009.12569.

Grodensky, Catherine A., David L. Rosen, Colleen M. Blue, Anna R. Miller, Steve Bradley-Bull, Wizdom A. Powell, Marisa E. Domino, Carol E. Golin, and David A. Wohl. “Medicaid Enrollment among Prison Inmates in a Non-expansion State: Exploring Predisposing, Enabling, and Need Factors Related to Enrollment Pre-incarceration and Post-Release.” Journal of Urban Health : Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 95, no. 4 (August 2018): 454–66. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-018-0275-1.

Jobe, Sarah C. “Rethinking Responsibility: Moral Injury from War to Prison.” Political Theology23, no. 4 (May 19, 2022): 335–49. https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317x.2022.2064095.

Jobe, Sarah, Nathaniel Grimes, Vincent Lloyd, Jason S. Sexton, Kathryn Getek Soltis, and Mary Beth Yount. “Ten Tips to De-Carcerate Your Theology, Ethics, or Religion Classroom.” Political Theology 23, no. 4 (May 19, 2022): 397–405. https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317x.2022.2079238.

Jobe, Sarah. “Carceral Hermeneutics: Discovering the Bible in Prison and Prison in the Bible.” Religions 10, no. 2 (February 10, 2019): 101–101. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020101.

Jobe, Sarah C. “How programs in prisons are challenging the who, where, how, and what of theological education.” Teaching Theology &Amp; Religion 22, no. 1 (January 2019): 16–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/teth.12466.

Wildeman, C., and H. Lee. Women’s Health in the Era of Mass Incarceration. Vol. 47, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-081320-113303.

Wildeman, C., M. D. Fitzpatrick, and A. W. Goldman. Conditions of confinement in American prisons and jails. Vol. 14, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-101317-031025.


If you have questions about the Prison Engagement Initiative, please contact Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu.