Philosophy Phriday: Northwestern Prison Education Program

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the fifty-seventh contribution in the series, submitted by our editor-in-chief, Benjamin Blanchard.

Northwestern Prison Education Program

The ant content in this (Saturday!) post is far less than usual for the series, but the natural affinity between social insects and social justice warrants little explanation. Plus, as soon as I heard about program that serves as the topic for this post, I became increasingly antsy to feature it in the Philosophy Phriday series. What is the program you may ask? None other than that stated in the title: The Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP).


NPEP is an inspired endeavor. Spearheaded by Director and Northwestern philosophy professor Dr. Jennifer Lackey, NPEP brings together a Faculty Advisory Committee and a Graduate Student Advisory Committee to develop credit-granting curricula for people who are incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois near Chicago. The program just began reviewing the first round of applications for their inaugural 2018-19 class, with a cohort size of 20 students.

This prison program is a creative response to the disastrous incarceration crisis in the United States, motivated by evidence supporting prison education as an effective means to increase employment opportunities, reduce recidivism rates, enhance self-esteem and personal outlook even for those with natural life sentences, and improve relations between all members of the prison community. The curriculum in NPEP actively encourages engagement among students, with topics including law, political science, public policy, sociology, literature, history, psychology, and cognition. In one upcoming course this Fall Quarter, the students will develop policy to “prevent and address crime and violence”, which will “culminate in mock legislative hearings during which students will present their solutions to a panel of local and state elected officials”.

Previous installments in the Philosophy Phriday series have highlighted the similarities between human societies and ant societies, including the interconnectedness between all members. Cooperation between groups, including between countries, is common. We are significantly influenced by societal norms. We deeply rely on both local and international communities for such mundane tasks as taking out the trash. Legacies of colonialism, and responses, are widespread.  Humans, like ants, are political animals. We invest in each other.

The Northwestern Prison Education Program is an extraordinary effort that recognizes this mutual reliance that defines humanity, working to respectively and collaboratively enhance the lives of everyone in society. If this sounds good to you, you can donate to NPEP here, and follow NPEP on Twitter here. If you are at Northwestern as a faculty member, graduate student, or undergraduate student, see here for ways to get further involved.

21433062_10210794048828226_3147546594431184209_nBenjamin Blanchard is a PhD Candidate in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago and the Moreau Lab in the Field Museum of Natural History. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Ant, which includes running the Philosophy Phridays series in collaboration with Executive Producers Lauren Leydon-Hardy, Joshua Blanchard, and Kathryn Pogin.