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U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1967 Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice called for a massive increase in teachers prepared to assist in the delivery of academic programs for incarcerated people. “Substantial subsidies are needed to recruit needed specialists,” they wrote, “and to provide them with the training required to make them effective in their complex and challenging task.” Half a century later, the persistent educational deficits and need for empowering postsecondary academic programs in prisons across the United States and the world are being addressed by a wide range of responses from specialists in higher education, corrections, and research. Too often overlooked, however, are the perspectives of those specialists whose expertise comes in part from lived experience: directly affected people leading successful and meaningful interventions in rehabilitation and reentry. This paper examines the development and administration of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, an in-prison college program run and staffed primarily by its own formerly incarcerated graduates. The importance of foregrounding the voices of directly affected people by placing them in positions of true leadership and authority – not merely as symbolic gestures or tokens – in Hudson Link’s program design and implementation is explained. Finally, the paper explores the impact of lived experience on managing and teaching in the program, as well as strategies for academic partners looking to best support interventions led by those who are closest to the problem and, in turn, closest to the solution.



Originally published in the Journal of Prison Education & Reentry, Volume 6, Number 1, 2019. Also available on the journal's website:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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