Students from the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) have attained bachelor’s degrees, the first time in U.S. history that incarcerated students have received bachelor’s degrees from a top 10 university.
The prisoners – they engaged in the program from inside Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois – were celebrated at a Nov. 15 ceremony, where they were able to walk across stage and receive their diplomas.
“It is often said that education is transformative. And I believe this even more wholeheartedly with each passing day in our community,” said Dr. Jennifer Lackey, NPEP founding director and the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy. “But I have also been powerfully moved by the way you all have transformed education. You have radically expanded what it means to be a Northwestern student. You have enriched Northwestern University in ways that will echo for decades to come.”
Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates served as the program’s first bachelor’s degree commencement speaker, commending the graduates on their accomplishments, such as writing a novel while battling stage four prostate cancer; helping exonerate several incarcerated individuals; and becoming the first incarcerated individual in Illinois to take the LSAT.
Having achieved this milestone, the graduates will become NPEP teaching assistants and fellows. There are still approximately 60 students at the correctional center pursuing bachelor’s degrees.
“This graduation is a significant step forward for higher education within the criminal legal system and we must do more. All people, regardless of their circumstances, deserve access to education and to realize their full potential,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.“The Northwestern Prison Education Program is a testament to how the power of education can truly transform lives and provide hope for a better future, both within and outside prison walls.”