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 task forces that each focus on goal-oriented impacts in how Duke engages prisons and the criminal legal system. Task forces will meet regularly throughout 2023-4 in addition to PEI’s continued all-group monthly meetings.


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.


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, learn about the work of each member, engage community partners in the Triangle area, and work collectively towards the goals of task forces. 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

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, or would like to sign up for its newsletter, please contact Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu.