Getting Started:
Creating Coalitions on the Local Level

Nicole Meyenberg and Steve Parks

1. When Teachers for a Democratic Culture was approached by Workplace to submit an article for an issue dedicated to "prisons and education," we decided to write the article together. Each of us arrives at the issue from a different perspective. While we have both been active in university movements for social justice, one of us was particularly active in the anarchist and prisoner support movement; the other has been active in developing academic programs linking the university and its students to community-based social movements. In considering this article, we became interested in how any discussion of the "prison/education" dynamic must account for larger global trends affecting both sectors. We began to wonder how organizations at the local level might work together to confront the larger political/economic trends impacting the prison/education dynamic.

2. In the following essay, then, we offer an analysis of the current relationships between education, prisons, and movements for social justice. Then, by examining our work in Philadelphia, we provide several models for how local coalitions could be built and maintained. We conclude with some thoughts about future work.

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

3. Truisms are often criticized when they appear in student writing. As teachers, we hope our students provide more subtle ways of framing a question or posing a solution than the cliché. Yet truisms also provide a window on common sense, a shorthand statement for where the larger culture places its values. For many years, the phrase "Three strikes and you're out" was shorthand for getting tough on crime. This phrase represented the answer to a public that had been inundated with television news reports and reality crime shows depicting a chaotic and dangerous world. Meeting this fear, politicians answered. Criminal penalties were increased. Prisons were built. Today, the number of prisoners in the United States exceeds the combined populations of Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. That of non-violent prisoners exceeds the combined populations of Alaska and Wyoming.

4. Underneath this set of truisms, however, is a more productive shorthand statement: prisons are big business. In ways that are self-evident to many of us involved in the issue, the elite corporations are profiting from this "get tough on crime" period. They are profiting from the design, construction, furnishing, equipping, and operation of prisons. In fact, there are corporate entities that concentrate all of their economic activity in the prison industry--whether it be designing the structure, providing the security cameras, feeding the inmates, or maintaining the landscaping. For rural communities devastated by the corporatization of the farming industry, a career as a correctional officer is quickly and eerily becoming the means for many of the rural poor to support their families.

5. In the process, poor communities of color are being devastated. Today, one in three African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 are, in some manner, in the custody of the justice system--whether in county jail, state or federal prison, paroled, or under probation. At the time of their imprisonment, these prisoners are overwhelmingly and consistently unemployed or under-employed. To mimic the rhetoric of the recent presidential campaign, it would seem that the urban poor have failed to become hi-tech workers in this "new global economy." Or more appropriately, the new global economy has restructured itself away from state and federal commitments to ensure systemic aid to poor communities and has found an alternative solution--prison or low-wage jobs.

6. For instance, one element of the political and economic factors that determine who goes to prison is the quality of education afforded to young people of color. Nearly 70% of prisoners have not completed high school.1 Yet the new economy has allowed urban public schools, a traditional motor of class mobility, and the tax base that supported them to disintegrate. In our home community of Philadelphia, the public school students are 80% minority or urban poor. In these schools, close to 80% of students qualify for free-lunch programs. Despite this situation, they receive approximately $5,000 less in funding per student than the surrounding suburban communities. All the water fountains in the school district were recently turned off due to lead poisoning. On the first day of school this year, over 200 classrooms did not have teachers. As a result, the citywide graduation rate is less than 60% district wide. (This rate drops to approximately 50% in the schools surrounding Temple University and University of Pennsylvania.) And while there has substantial investment in the center of the city, home of corporate headquarters, a recent study indicated that there are over 100,000 condemned homes in our neighborhoods, areas which recently held over 40,000 abandoned cars.

7. Recognizing this situation, some advocates have argued that one of the only roles left open for the urban poor is providing bodies, the raw material needed to support the emerging prison industry. As anti-imperialist political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur states:

As prisoners, the only value we have is if [corporate/political/state entity] can turn a political campaign or a dollar on us. So our bodies become commodities for someone else's gain. Past recidivist rates read like a Dow Jones Industrial Average-the higher the recidivism, the more various opportunists stand to gain. The traffickers in bodies insure a steady supply by slashing at fundamental programs serving our poorest families. They demand more police, more children's prisons, and more youth incarceration. More bodies, younger bodies, with increased shelf life due to mandatory sentences.2
While his words might seem extreme, it is important to note how his opinion is echoed by children living in those neighborhoods. In working in public schools in Philadelphia, we have learned that children are well aware of how they are being trapped in a school system that will not provide them with the basic literacy skills to succeed (even if success is framed in the pro-corporate idea of middle class careers and not the broader social aim of improving their community). For these students, prison is a central trope in how they understand their experience. Either they know someone in prison, have friends involved in the corrections system, or have a belief they cannot escape the system. Indeed, for many schools, the only assembly programs offered are D.A.R.E. and crime prevention programs. When asked about their career goals, these students overwhelmingly want to become "cops." (Criminal Justice is also one of the largest majors in our college at Temple University.)

8. In saying this, we are not taking the position that no alternatives exist. Clearly there are other choices besides being a cop or being a prisoner. There are always individual successes that can stand as alternative possibilities. Nor are we arguing that the crime in urban areas is a myth. Children are not insane for wanting to protect their neighborhoods. It is understandable that community organizations often perceive solutions to urban poverty as more support from police and tougher prison sentences for violent offenders. Clearly, however, increased police surveillance is at best only a partial solution to the general economic system that is devastating their communities. Communities are aware that they must work collectively to offer alternative responses to the "new economy" than prison or poverty. The issue becomes how to "connect the dots" in such a way that community revitalization isn't another way of saying "get tough on crime."

The Prison Economy and Higher Education

9. Before suggesting ways in which those of us in the academy can join work towards community revitalization, it is worth considering the impact of prison funding on higher education. That is, what might be our immediate stake in this issue? How does the increase in corrections funding affect the workings of higher education? How are recent trends in higher education part of a general trend in the economy?

10. To some extent, the fact that "corrections" budgets are at the expense of higher education budgets is well known. It is, however, still shocking. States are striking from their higher education allocations almost exactly what they are adding to their corrections allocations:

In 1998, the state of New York reduced the public university budgets by $615 million while increasing the corrections budgets by $761 million.3
Maryland, in 1995, decreased its funds allocated to university construction by $954 million while increasing that allocated to prison construction by $926 million.4
Elsewhere, prison funding has started to exceed funding for higher education:
Florida, during the two year period between 1992 and 1994, received an increase in prison funding of $450 million-a sum greater than the increase allotted to the state's higher education system over the previous ten years.5
The state of New York currently spends $275 million more on its prisons than its city and state universities.6

11. With this shift in funding, most states are currently building, or are planning to build, more new prisons than new state universities. They are hiring more new correctional officers than new teachers. The salaries of correctional officers are increasing more frequently, and at a higher rate, than those of teachers.

When the governor of California (Wilson) vetoed pay raises for other state workers, correctional officers received a 12% pay raise.7
Throughout a time period in which the state if California reduced its higher education workforce by 8,082, the California Department of Corrections added 25, 864 employees.8
Not surprisingly, these funding decisions also represent a decision about who will have funds to attend colleges and universities.
With the money spent by the state of California to imprison one inmate for a year, the state could pay for 10 people to attend community college or 5 people to attend one of the state's public universities.9
The state of Florida spends more in one year to on 56,000 prisoners than 500,000 college students.10
In light of the incarceration rates of African American youth cited earlier in this paper, it is both remarkable and stunning to consider the numbers of African-Americans and Latino/as incarcerated in a state's prison in contrast to the numbers enrolled in a state's university system.
22,555 African-Americans are enrolled in California's public universities; nearly twice as many (44,792) are imprisoned in its state penitentiaries.
In the state of New York, 27,925 African-Americans attend SUNY while 34,809 are imprisoned in the state's prison system; 17,845 Latino/as attend SUNY while 22,421 are imprisoned.
In 1997, 4,054 African-Americans graduated from SUNY while 4,747 were imprisoned in New York for drug offenses; 2,563 Latino/as graduated from SUNY while 4,459 were imprisoned in the same state for drug offenses.

12. Clearly, this shift in funding has accelerated existing trends in higher education. Either through lack of funds or deliberate management practices, there is an increase in part-time labor as a percentage of the total faculty pool. Increasingly, however, that corporate practice is just one part of the general picture. Lack of state support has led universities to seek dollars through alliances with corporations. For instance, patent law changes in the Reagan era allowed private corporations to profit from university-based government-supported research. This has lead to an increase of corporate sponsorship in higher education. For-profit on-line universities are emerging as subsidiaries of existing universities. (Temple University, for instance, has recently approved Virtual Temple, a for-profit on-line university.) In an effort to support scholars, universities are allowing corporations to establish "think-tanks" on campuses. Corporations are creating endowed chair which demand the professors holding those positions are dedicated to proving the benefits of the free-market economy. A corporate code of "excellence" has taken over.11

13. As with the public schools, these corporate trends have had their greatest impact on public, state-related, and small colleges. Institutions with limited endowments or who are highly dependent on tuition to cover costs, must do more than just allow corporate entities access to their "product"--knowledge production. They must also raise tuition. This clearly impacts who can attend their programs. Second, as importantly, they often imbed tuition raises within a larger program of "raising standards," which is often a shibboleth for drawing on a more economically stable segment of the population, educated in wealthy public or private grades schools. This shift insures the institution can assume a steady diet of tuition over the course of several years--an unwise assumption concerning students who must work to afford tuition. Here, then, rising admission standards are used to eliminate students who are from a lower economic segment of society (and, thus, probably attended under funded public schools) as well as eliminate the need for remediation (and its attendant costs). Within this larger framework, it becomes clear, then, how our new economy is aligning itself against urban poor and minority communities.

14. At stake in the emerging economy, then, is the idea of higher education as a public space where all segments of society can engage in cultural critique and socially responsible knowledge production. One interesting development which links the corporatization of the university and prison funding has been the creation of a national and student oriented campaign against Sodexho Marriot Services. Sodexho is financing the burgeoning private prison industry as the leading investor in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company. Sodexho's support of the for-profit prison industry directly impacts the lives of many students as Sodexho is contracted to provide food services to more than 400 university campuses. Because many schools require all residents to purchase a meal plan, the students' money is supporting the growth of the private prison industry. With the assistance of the Prison Moratorium Project's 'Not With Our Money!' Campaign, student prison activists have emerged and mobilized nation-wide. In fact, as we write this essay, students at Ithaca College are engaging in direct action to demand that the university sever its relationship with Sodexho. With hundreds of protesters locked outside the doors of the financial aid office, seven activists are occupying the office. This emergency action, which is demanding that Ithaca College break its contract with the cafeteria service provider (and private prison financier) if Sodexho does not divest from private prisons by April 1st and that punitive action will not be taken against the students engaged in the action, is the result of months of unsuccessful negotiation.

15. In the final analysis, as teachers in higher education, we need to realize how these issues cannot be separated from our classrooms. We cannot ignore how our universities align themselves with corporations; how our institution chooses to support the public schools (or exclude their students from our campuses); and how grants and programs linked to community revitalization are undertaken. We cannot deny how all these elements seem currently organized around increasing the percentage of economically and educationally distressed citizens in prison.

16. For what is at stake is the way in which our students will come to understand their role as citizens. Will they come to see themselves as individuals working for their own self-interest or as a part of a collective tradition dedicated to social justice? Without turning our classrooms into ideological soapboxes, we need show how building communities based upon more egalitarian and just foundations is possible. We need to model for them the ways in which academic critique and investigation can interact with the work of community activists, public school teachers, and neighborhood organizations to produce an alternative reality to the one being created by the "global economy."

Community Alliances

17. As we tried to indicate above, failure to link current imprisonment practices with the decay of urban education and the limitations placed on access to higher education is a mistake. It not only isolates larger trends within society; it demonizes individuals most affected by those trends. For this reason, our interest lies in efforts that try to link all segments of the community around the common goal of political empowerment. Since our understanding of the "prison/education" connection is broader than just a focus on the incarcerated, we want to begin by looking at efforts that connect different educational institutions involved in building a holistic community movement. We will then move onto a particular example, Books Through Bars, a community organized effort in Philadelphia.

18. Within the university, one current model to build community alliances is service learning. On the one hand, these courses respond to the need to make liberal arts "more practical" and, thus, more attractive to students. In this way, they are a site of negotiation concerning how liberal arts education should be connected to the "real world." As structured at Temple University, the emphasis has been to inculcate a sense of community obligation in students that transcends the campus. Over the past year, for instance, one of us has taught a course where university students provide one on one tutoring to urban public school students who are currently below grade level. Taking this service-learning method further, we have also taken part in classes that link students to anti-rape programs, community arts projects, and homeless shelters. In each case, the surrounding community has identified needs which the university could meet. Through their requests, resources that would not have been available to the community were being provided.

19. One of the most interesting examples of a service-learning course at Temple University is "Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program." Developed by Lori Pompa and taught out of the Criminal Justice Program, the course "is an opportunity for a small group of criminal justice majors . . . to exchange ideas and perceptions about crime and justice, the criminal justice system, corrections and imprisonment with a targeted group of residents of the Philadelphia jails."12 The class meets once a week for over two hours at the Philadelphia Industrial Corrections Center. During the course, students engage with the students about why individuals commit crime, what life is like inside prison, and the difficulty of the transition back to society. The class often involves a project that is designed to impact conditions at the prison. For students who imagine their careers as involved with criminal justice, this is often their first experience inside a prison. What is particularly important about the course is that by having the students and the incarcerated work together, a sense of community emerges which can transcend the typical media coverage of urban crime. In this way, the practical goal of the course is to alter how one might understand their job within the justice system.13

20. Even while valuing the work of individual courses, however, we recognize the difficulties of framing our role in community revitalization strictly in terms of "service learning." While the most immediate for some faculty, this is just a first step in articulating a role for the university in becoming an active participant in communities. More systemically, one of our colleagues, Lori Shorr, has created the "Young Scholars Program" (YSP), a four year program for public school students. The YSP is a coalition of existing community, university, and federal programs. It represents the concerted effort by individuals to form a community among their competing organizations. Beginning in eighth grade, students take one college course each year for four years. The courses include mathematics, computer science, writing, and ethnographic research. Each course is taught by a university faculty member and a public school teacher. As part of the program, public school teachers are provided with graduate courses in their subject area at no cost. In areas such as math and science, where certified teachers are difficult to hire in urban areas, this graduate instruction can have direct impact on a teacher's ability to work with students. Upon completion of the program, a series of grants and tuition wavers enables the students to receive a low/no-cost college education. Notably, these students are 98% minority (with approximately a 50/50 split between African-American and Latino) and often come from families below the poverty line. This type of alliance work, we believe, represents one way in which it is possible to intervene in the decline of urban/resource poor communities.

21. The university also has a role to play in supporting research and publications that forward the social struggle of individual groups. One of us has also been involved in the development of a community press, New City. This press is an alliance of community social change organizations and cultural organizations. Its primary mission is to publish texts that highlight the struggles of urban communities and offers community-generated solutions. For instance, one of its first publications will be on the "Kennet Square Farmworkers." These workers are recent immigrants from Mexico and are employed by the mushroom industry outside of Philadelphia. Their working conditions and legal status insure they will remain in poverty. To alleviate their situation, the workers are trying to unionize. To aid this effort, the press is creating a bi-lingual oral history publication of the workers that will include their ideas about how to solve their political situation. As part of the project, community forums and community alliances will be developed to support their struggles. The book itself will be distributed throughout Philadelphia to their situation public. Proceeds from the book will support their unionizing efforts. Such work, we believe, turns traditional publishing efforts into active interventions in community struggles.

22. The above efforts have focused on the role of the university to the exclusion of independent community organizations. An important community coalition in Philadelphia is Books Through Bars. There are, throughout the country, approximately ten books-to-prisoners programs. The primary mission of such groups is to provide prisoners with tools for their empowerment through self-education. Yet, in all cases, the missions of such prisoner education groups include not only sending educational materials to prisoners but also educating the public on prison issues, working with politicized prisoners, and advocating on behalf of particular prisoners and issues. The primary program we will consider in this essay is West Philadelphia's Books through Bars. Books through Bars (BTB) has been in existence for over ten years. It began when an employee of New Society Publishers received (and fulfilled) the requests of prisoners for books published by the company. Slowly, a small group developed, receiving requests from and sending packages to roughly 50 prisoners each month. Today, BTB, with a core collective of eleven people, receives approximately 400 letters per month. Of these requests, the majority are for political and/or educational materials. The prisoners, who are predominantly African-American, are in dire need of general educational materials to help them obtain the GED; and historical, cultural, and political works that will enable them to educate themselves about their cultural heritage.14

23. Although BTB does fill requests for recreational reading material, we prioritize the requests for political and educational materials. Because the objective is empowerment through self-education, and because funds and the time-frame (because prisoners are transferred so arbitrarily and frequently) are so limited, the collective decided to prioritize requests in this way. Therefore the books we send out most often (and those for which we always have a need) are African-American Studies, Latin American Studies, radical literature, English dictionaries and thesauruses, Spanish-English dictionaries, basic math/grammar/science texts, and ESL workbooks. In addition, several of us have developed relationships of substantial length with individual prisoners and political study groups. As a social change, rather than social service, organization, this aspect of our work is not only the most essential but also the most satisfying. It is through this exchange that we educate each other-learning not only about the criminal injustice system, but also about the prisoners, ourselves, and the world in which we live. The prisoners engage us in conversation, sharing with us that which they have learned through their experience in prison and that which they have learned through their own self-education. Through their experience and studies, many prisoners have developed a sophisticated radical critique. This they share with their non-inmate supporters so that, together, we can strategize for change.

24. The education of the public about prison issues should also always be an integral component of a prisoner education project. Such education has several manifestations. The primary level of education is the awareness one gains through correspondence with a prisoner-whether they are a volunteer who has come to pack books for one night or a core collective member that has been working with a particular prisoner for four years. In the first instance, new volunteers are often being exposed to the reality of the prison system for the first time. Even if they have read extensive theoretical musings about criminal injustice, a prisoner's request for books will almost always have far greater significance to them. Whether they simply ask for a number of books or attempt to engage the reader in sustained friendship, a few sentences can convey more about their reality than 200 pages written by a scholar that has never and will never experience what the prisoner has endured.

25. In this regard, BTB has initiated and sustained several other projects worth mention. Similar to the efforts of New City Press, we have undertaken several publication projects. The most impressive of these endeavors is Con Texts, a project that has generated three exhibitions of prisoners' art and a book, Insiders' Art. The art show Working Group, over the past two years, has collected, chosen, matted and framed the artwork of hundreds of prison artists. The works selected are not simply those of the greatest artistic excellence, but those that represent the emotions generated by prison life. The show has been displayed in the gallery of one of Philadelphia's largest bookstores; at Unlocking America, a conference examining the prison crisis sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Interest Law; and Coalition Ingenu, the art gallery of Project H.O.M.E. The book, Insiders' Art, includes the artwork selected for the show, the words of the prisoners who created the art, and information to educate the public about the prison system.

26. (We have, however, moved beyond simply publishing texts and moved toward creating prison libraries. First, BTB established relationships with several prison librarians nation-wide. After assessing the library's needs, the prison librarian and the BTB library-liaison select those subject areas for which BTB can provide books. Later, the effectiveness of the books in meeting the needs of the prisoners is assessed. Second, BTB has established a relationship with the Philadelphia County Prisons. BTB not only provides the libraries with educational materials; the group also oversees the physical creation of the library space, and trains prison volunteers in its maintenance. Finally, BTB created a law library at a prison just outside the Philadelphia area.)

27. To reach a wider audience, BTB also sponsors and participates in educational events. For instance, over the past two years, the group has sponsored speaking engagements by Howard Zinn, radical activist-academic; Gary Webb, journalist and author of Dark Alliance; and Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner. We participated in several conferences specifically addressing issues surrounding the prison-industrial-complex and conferences addressing the urgent need for radical social change. When requested, members of the group present to church and community groups-often exposing them to an issue about which they had previously known very little. In conjunction with several other organizations, BTB creates and distributes educational pamphlets as well as making available to the public the essays of prisoners themselves. The works created and distributed by BTB include How to Start a Prison Book Program Handbook and a BTB video. Several BTB members have personally assisted other groups in developing a prisoner education program; and, in the near future, we will be conducting a workshop in prisoner support--a primary component of which will be detailing the operation of a prisoner education project.

28. BTB has also undertaken work not dissimilar to the service-learning project mentioned above. For as important as working with those that are currently incarcerated, is working with those that are at-risk. That is, both at-risk youth and those that have been released from prison. BTB is presently developing a program with a soon-to-be-opened community center for high school dropouts. Through this program, BTB will work closely with the youth both at their center and our own as they participate in our mutual educational process. At their center, they will share a number of our operational responsibilities--receiving and sorting book donations. In so doing, they will become acquainted with the types of books useful to a books-to-prisoners program. That is, they will become familiar with the types of books that are useful for empowering prisoners. At our own location, the youth will join us in corresponding with prisoners. This will entail reading the words of prisoners, selecting books appropriate for their needs, and becoming acquainted with the arbitrary nature of prison restrictions.

29. Working with prisoners that are about to be or have been released is essential. Not only will the individual be immersed in a culture in which they were not previously able to sustain themselves; they will do so as a 'criminal'. Necessities such as housing and employment that had always been denied them by this economic system will become nearly impossible to secure. Those of us involved in prisoner support can assist ex-offenders by: helping them develop reading, writing and technical skills; helping them to create appropriate resumes or complete job applications; compiling lists of employment and housing opportunities and actively working with the ex-offender to pursue such.

30. Books through Bars has always attempted to create and maintain solid working relationships with other radical activist groups-both those doing prisoner support work and those doing radical work of a different nature. Members work closely with the Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mothers Organized Against Police Terror, the Free Bar-Rae Choice Campaign, Students and Youth to Stop the Execution of Mumia, Refuse and Resist, and the Anarchist Black Cross (a political prisoner support group); as well as with radical organizations that are not working in the arena of prisoner support (or whose scope encompasses prison issues amongst many others) such as Wooden Shoe Books (a radical bookstore), the defenestrator (local anarchist newspaper), the Derailer and A-Space collectives (local free spaces), Philadelphia Direct Action Group, R2KLegal, American Friends Service Committee, Womens' International League of Peace and Freedom, Self Education Foundation, and the Philadelphia Independent Media Center. While there are many effective groups with which BTB, as a whole and through its members, works, these endeavors are wholly community-based.

31. And though we believe that community-based work is the most critical to any radical social change movement, we have been remiss in establishing working relationships of any significance with student organizations. BTB has, at times in the past, been engaged in the service-learning projects of area universities; we have had student groups organizing book drives on their campuses; and we have organized educational events with such groups. The commitment to maintaining such alliances have been, however, far weaker than similar commitments to community-based activist groups. It is imperative, however, that those of us working in the area of prisoner support align with all of the organizations doing radical work. To do such, BTB is initiating several measures. Along community-based lines, we hope to establish with the various local prison-related organizations a 'work-trade' program through which members of BTB and those of, for instance, Pennsylvania Abolitionists would spend a portion of the time that they would normally devote to their own organization working with the other. Through this, we will strengthen our alliances while also raising our awareness of prison issues, exposing our group to alternative strategies and programs, and understanding more fully the work being conducted by our fellow activists. Along university-based lines, BTB is working to renew its relationships with area service-learning programs and student prison activists. Through the service learning programs, students and collective members will arrange special packing cafes at which the students will learn about prison life, the educational opportunities available to prisoners, and factors of race and class in determining who is imprisoned. We hope as well to establish such cafes for local student prison activists.


32. Through "Inside-Out," "Young Scholars Program, and "Books Through Bars," we can begin to see the outlines of how coalitions can respond to the current attack on urban/poor communities. Central to local organizing efforts, it seems, is the work of uniting community, school, and university resources. Only through such alliances can the resources and popular support be generated which can ultimately re-articulate the prison/education dynamic. For implicit in all the examples is the idea that social change occurs when citizens are organized and educated in how to move institutions towards policies favorable to their communities. While we have focused on the local community, we believe such alliances are necessary to successfully lobby within states for alternative budget allocations or more progressive criminal codes. Indeed the next stage for many of the alliances discussed above is to unite their efforts with national organizations and movements. We hope the relationship between the national movement and the local moment will be taken up by other essays in this collection.

33. Finally, we will not pretend that such an insight is particularly original. But then, cutting funding for the working poor or disproportionately imprisoning minorities is not very original either. Maybe at this moment in the new economy, what is called for is an old-fashioned alliance for political change.

Nicole Meyenberg and Steve Parks, Teachers for a Democratic Culture

Today, one in three African-American men between the ages of 20 and 29 are, in some manner, in the custody of the justice system.

The new economy has allowed urban public schools to disintegrate. In our home community of Philadelphia, the public school students receive $5,000 less in funding per student than in suburban communities. In the schools near Temple and the University of Pennsylvania, the graduation rate is approximately 50%.

We cannot ignore how our universities align themselves with corporations; how our institution chooses to support the public schools (or exclude their students from our campuses); and how grants and programs linked to community revitalization are undertaken. We cannot deny how all these elements seem currently organized around increasing the percentage of economically and educationally distressed citizens in prison.

Central to local organizing the work of uniting community, school, and university resources. Only through such alliances can the resources and popular support be generated which can ultimately re-articulate the prison/education dynamic.