Education preparedness program educates inmates, students

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EPP offers courses to students inside correctional facilities in the local area.

The Education Preparedness Program looks to make a change in the Milwaukee community by offering courses to students inside correctional facilities in the local area.

The program was originally spearheaded by Robert Smith, a professor of history, Theresa Tobin, a professor of philosophy, and Tobin’s then-doctoral student Marisola Xhelili Ciaccio in 2014.

Ciaccio was researching women’s incarceration, and through her findings realized that Wisconsin has the highest black male incarceration rates in the country. At this point, she contacted Tobin and Smith and began creating the foundation for what would be the EPP.

Currently, Wisconsin incarceration rate outpaces entire countries. Countries like the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Canada all have lower incarceration rates than the state of Wisconsin alone. Wisconsin had 663 incarcerated inmates per 100,000 residents in 2021.

Darren Wheelock, a professor of criminology, also joined the efforts to create this program. Five years later, the group was afforded a $745,000 grant, and the Education Preparedness Program was born.

“At that point, they realized that the program would probably be best suited if they found someone who had experiential knowledge in dealing with both the legal and educational systems, and I was hired by the team to round out the five members,” Shar-Ron Buie, the outreach coordinator for the program, said.

The EPP started in June 2021. The five team members developed a system where the professors go into institutions, specifically the Milwaukee House of Corrections and Racine Correctional Institution, and teach.

“The students inside these facilities are Marquette students. There are no ‘technically’” Buie said.

EPP courses are conducted by various Marquette professors and are credited at worth three credits. The classes are offered not only to students inside correction facilities but to students on campus as well.

“I learn a lot from them [the students]. I’m taking African American history with Dr. Smith in the House of Corrections. What I appreciate is how the students and the institutions link their life experiences, and we have great discussions”, Corena Smith, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences who takes classes online in the program and works with the Center, said.

Smith, along with almost all “outside” students participating in these courses, is online in her Education Preparedness Program course.

“Being able to work with the team on creating applications and building partnerships with re-entry councils in the city and working with other interns is great. I learn a lot from the people we help. Most of them were incarcerated, and when they came out, they did great things. One of the participants has a podcast, and another owns a business where she helps people get their records expunged. It’s just, really amazing,” Smith said.

The EPP was developed at Marquette, but the program is planning on expanding to other educational institutions in the state of Wisconsin. Buie said that the organization is trying to collaborate with the University of Wisconsin and University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

“What that will do will allow a number of our classes to transfer to any one of these institutions that’ll take that certificate and have it recognized. Then finally, our goal is to be able to provide a complete bachelor’s degree to our students,” Buie said.

This semester, the program offers seven courses. There are still spaces available for the course Psychology of Human Development of Children and Adolescents in a Diverse Society, taught by Dr. Gabriel Velez.

Benjamin Wells contributed to this report.

This story was written by Clara Lebron. She can be reached at clara.lebron@marquette.edu