Program Overview

The Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) at Penn State is a university-wide coalition of faculty members, graduate students, staff, and community groups dedicated to restoring and empowering individuals that are incarcerated through education and meaningful engagement in civic life. The initiative seeks to create awareness of issues impacting incarcerated communities; create educational opportunities for incarcerated populations; conduct research that informs curriculum used in correctional settings; and improve community, university, and state correctional institutions’ relationships through strategic partnerships that cultivate a network of resources for justice-impacted individuals.

History and Impact

Penn State’s RJI program was founded in 2015. Since its creation, RJI’s interdisciplinary team has worked to create quality curricula and instruction in correctional facilities. It has partnered with the Centre County Correctional Facility (CCCF) and State Correctional Institution – Benner Township (SCI – Benner) to support and enhance existing reentry initiatives and develop educational programs. RJI has also partnered with the State Correctional Facility – Quehanna Boot Camp to provide educational programming and reentry services. Over the years, RJI has worked with more than 200 incarcerated individuals in over 15 teaching placements. RJI has also worked with staff in the facilities to develop curriculum materials and evaluation tools for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. 

In Spring of 2019 RJI organized a Prison Education Summit that brought together representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and from leading prison education and reentry programs from around the country. The summit helped Penn State set short- and long-term priorities and devise a plan customized to the needs of the state. It brought together more than 100 people from education and corrections, including the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Corrections, which helped garner enthusiasm for RJI’s efforts to expand its role in prison education. The summit revealed a desire from DOC and higher education to establish a statewide collaborative.   

One of the long-term goals of the program is to credential the courses offered in the correctional facilities. The hope is for RJI to expand higher education courses offered in the facilities and, ultimately, create a prison education program that provides students in the facilities an opportunity to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

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