Adler University has received a generous $369,000 gift from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the initiatives of the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) over the next two years. The Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice (IPSSJ) at Adler University, a member of IL-CHEP, will help the coalition build capacity and advance its initiatives to expand access to higher education in prison.
IL-CHEP is a coalition of more than 50 educators, students, universities, and others committed to bringing quality higher education to Illinois prisons and jails to create a more just society. Founded in 2016, IL-CHEP operates with the knowledge that higher education programs are among the best ways to offer opportunities to individuals who are incarcerated.
IPSSJ, which partners with community groups, peer institutions, and other organizations to address public safety challenges through socially just solutions, has worked closely with IL-CHEP on these efforts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been collaborating to advocate for and help protect Illinois prisoners.
“With social justice being the equal distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges across society it was only natural for IPSSJ to pick up this work to drive it forward so that others can have the same opportunity that I was afforded,” said Larry Barrett, Program Assistant for IPSSJ and IL-CHEP Steering Committee member. “As a person directly impacted by incarceration and higher education in prison, I naturally have an affinity for this work. It was during my time in higher education classes, while incarcerated, that I started to be able to polish my talents as a computer programmer, evaluator, lay therapist, mathematician, teacher, and published writer. I was given space to process who I was and express who I had become.”
Elena Quintana, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, will provide oversight of the project, including convening, communication, and organizational capacity building. Her expertise includes nearly two decades of working with communities and youth to create violence prevention solutions and promote restorative justice.
Sarah Ross, faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will also lead the project. Since 2006, Ross has worked with incarcerated artists in IL prisons. In 2011, she co-founded the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP), a cultural project that brings together artists, writers and scholars in and outside Stateville Correctional Center to create public projects. In 2016, PNAP became a founding member of IL-CHEP.
IL-CHEP works to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated people in Illinois, striving to support students as they build meaningful lives while incarcerated and as they prepare for a successful future in civic life after release. IL-CHEP encourages public dialogue and action to reduce state and national reliance on incarceration, especially through its Freedom to Learn campaign.
The coalition’s work in the next few years will focus on advocating for clear and fair statewide policies and expanding access to higher education in prisons across Illinois.