Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach
1618 W. Wells St.
Milwaukee, WI 53233
CURTO ON SOCIAL
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The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, imprisoning 655 citizens per 100,000. Wisconsin maintains one of the highest rates of Black male incarceration nationally (Pawasarat and Quinn 2013). Approximately one in eight Black men in Wisconsin are currently incarcerated (12.8%). These trends only become worse when focusing on specific neighborhoods in Milwaukee, where over 50% of Black men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life (Jackson 2019). Most incarcerated individuals are eventually released to their original communities in the Milwaukee area, typically neighborhoods surrounding Marquette University’s campus.
The EPP Leadership Team (from left to right): Shar-Ron Buie, Darren Wheelock, Theresa Tobin, Robert S. Smith, Marisola Xhelili Ciaccio
EPP provides academic support and career building resources for incarcerated and recently released students through Marquette University's Center for Urban Research, Teaching, & Outreach, in collaboration with partnering academic institutions and community organizations.
Research shows that education can provide currently and formerly incarcerated individuals with a viable pathway to successful reintegration. Our experience has shown that educational success for currently and formerly incarcerated (CFI) populations requires wrap-around services that support the whole person as they pursue education and career goals as part of a flourishing life. Built on partnerships within Marquette and across Milwaukee, Marquette University’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching and Outreach (CURTO) houses the Educational Preparedness Program (EPP) to provide pathways to higher learning, academic advising and career services for the currently and formerly incarcerated.
The Education Preparedness Program (EPP) is committed to developing, strengthening, and providing educational opportunities to formerly and currently incarcerated populations, expanding traditional boundaries of higher education by emphasizing collaboration across the Milwaukee community. EPP seeks to extend educational resources to an otherwise underserved population in methods which exemplify Marquette’s Jesuit values. The program’s guiding principles include: promoting Milwaukee and racial justice, fostering CFI leadership, introducing a blended course model that follows humanistic pedagogy, and providing wrap-around services.
The Maquette University Education Preparedness Program (EPP) strives to create a prison-to-school pipeline to support successful reentry and flourishing for people directly impacted by incarceration. Through serving as a platform of accessibility that connects systems-impacted students to university resources and the broader network of support in Milwaukee, EPP aims to provide transformative learning experiences for degree-seeking and systems-impacted students and to develop collaborative solutions to shared issues in social justice.
Like many of CURTO's projects and initiatives, EPP was ignited by student and CURTO's commitment to support public facing scholarship. In 2014, Marisola Xhelili Ciaccio was in her second year as a doctoral student at Marquette. Ciaccio's research on women’s incarceration made her aware that some areas in Milwaukee had the nation’s highest rate of incarceration for Black men. Ciaccio and a fellow graduate student connected with Dr. Theresa W. Tobin, Associate Professor of Philosophy, and CURTO's director, Dr. Robert S. Smith, to begin conversations about blended philosophy courses taught to a mix of college students and justice- impacted people.
That conversation seven years ago sparked a series of ideas and collaborations that, five years later, landed a $745,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and some profound moments of learning for Tobin, Xhelili Ciaccio, and students on and off the Marquette campus. What began as a way to bring meaning to a course of studies has blossomed into an ambitious humanities-anchored effort to reverse entrenched inequities in the treatment of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated (IFC) communities. Learn more about our history here.
CURTO, in collaboration with social justice initiatives across Milwaukee, has established the EPP as part of an emerging regional effort—the Milwaukee Prison Education Consortium, or MPEC—that offers wrap-around services for CFI populations through strategic aligning of institutional resources to break the cycle of recidivism in our over-incarcerated city. As the education-centered component of MPEC, the EPP in particular aims to improve academic and career guidance and expand college degree pathways for students in Wisconsin state prisons and re-entry populations.
The seeds of our program were sown in 2015 with one blended Philosophy course entitled "Narrating freedom: Gender and Mass Incarceration" that enrolled 12 Marquette undergraduates and 12 incarcerated students from the Milwaukee Women's Correctional Center, alternating locations between MWCC and Marquette campus.