The Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) is an initiative of Northwestern University to provide a high-quality liberal arts education to incarcerated students in Illinois in partnership with Oakton Community College and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). NPEP fills a vital need in Illinois by being the only degree-granting program in the state providing a full liberal arts curriculum—humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and STEM courses—to incarcerated students. NPEP is also the only postsecondary prison education program in Illinois that accepts applications from facilities throughout the state, including from medium- and maximum-security prisons. This enables NPEP to have statewide impact and to reach students at various stages of their incarceration, allowing the liberal arts degrees that are conferred to prepare students for success across a broad range of future pursuits.
In addition to expanding access to college-level courses for a systematically disadvantaged population, this initiative strives to enhance Northwestern University’s academic mission by fostering a dynamic and diverse intellectual community extending beyond Northwestern’s campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Qatar. By providing undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and faculty at Northwestern and Oakton with opportunities to teach and learn alongside incarcerated students, NPEP is giving the next generation of citizens, lawyers, and scholars the tools to confront the grave problems that plague our nation’s criminal justice system.
Each year, NPEP accepts a minimum of 20 men from medium- and maximum-security correctional facilities in Illinois through an admissions process that is rigorous and selective. NPEP currently serves 2 cohorts with a total of 42 students. Accepted students enroll in 2–3 courses per quarter at Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security men’s prison in Crest Hill, IL, approximately 50 miles southwest of Evanston. Classes are taught by renowned Northwestern and Oakton faculty members, and students receive college credit through Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies and Oakton Community College tuition-free. NPEP students are currently eligible for an Associate of General Studies degree from Oakton Community College, generally within 2–3 years of admission.
NPEP’s educational programming also reaches beyond its core activities at Stateville Correctional Center by partnering with the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) to offer four-week introductory college-level courses at the Cook County Jail in Chicago. These courses are taught by Northwestern University faculty and advanced Ph.D. students and are offered across levels of security and in both the men’s and the women’s divisions. These mini-courses provide both meaningful exposure to liberal arts education to pre-trial and short-term incarcerated students and outstanding professional development opportunities for graduate students.
1. Transformation through Education: creating a community of scholars behind bars.
2. Reducing Incarceration: lowering recidivism rates.
3. A Brighter Future: opening doors to the wider world after incarceration.