UI Prison Projects Coalition stages symposium


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After three months of planning, University of Iowa officials as well as state officials gathered to present various prison projects.

The first Incarcerated in Iowa symposium, which was held in the University Capitol Center this past weekend, focused on the ways the incarcerated community and free community affect each other, as well as what the free population can do to help reverse the growth of the incarcerated population.

From advocating for library funding to providing college education to the incarcerated, speakers showcased their respective prison projects and supplemented their presentations with discussions.

“Our ultimate goal today is to create a conversation among the university, the Department of Corrections, and community volunteers for public engagement in scholarship,” said Kathrina Litchfield, a UI graduate  student and co-organizer of the symposium.

This goal was first realized when Litchfield met co-organizers Mark Fullenkamp, the director of web services at the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Gemma Goodale-Sussen, a graduate student in the English Department.

“The campus community that was working with the incarcerated weren’t communicating very well,” Fullenkamp said.

Litchfield pitched the idea for the UI Prison Projects Coalition as a way to put this community in touch, Fullenkamp said. When she presented it to John Baldwin, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, Incarcerated in Iowa was born.

Fullenkamp said the project gathered steam quickly.

“There was some initial resistance from people who thought that it was happening too quickly,” he said.

Despite the opposition, the symposium took place just three months after Litchfield’s proposal.

“We just started a conversation, and it’s grown from 12 people to what it is today,” Litchfield said.

At present, the coalition brings students, community members and the incarcerated together, each group bringing a unique perspective to the table.

All parties involved with the coalition benefit, Fullenkamp said: Students get hands on experience in a real-world setting, while the incarcerated benefit from assistance, resources, and interaction with the free community.

“I don’t see a downside,” Fullenkamp said.

Cliff Missen, the director of the WiderNet project, which is dedicated to improving digital education and communication for communities around the world, found the symposium stimulating and energizing, but he also recognizes the job is not yet complete.

“Too little of this work is being done; the need is huge, and the resources are few,” Missen said. “But I’m very inspired by what my colleagues are doing.”

Overall, the symposium served as a great indicator of the future of the UI Prison Projects Coalition, Fullenkamp said.

“We’ve come a long way already, and I expect it to continue to grow,” he said.

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