Come Work in Prison Education at Georgetown University

We’re hiring two new staff for the education team at PJI, which I will supervise.

(We’re also hiring a Department Administrator!)

I’m incredibly proud of the work that we do at the Prisons and Justice Initiative–but this has been an especially powerful year. After the Pivot graduation this June, we all thought we had settled into a rhythm, until a confluence of events suggested that we’d be able to expand the Scholars program in the corrections system in the state of Maryland, with a bachelor’s degree. Now the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has agreed to help fund that expansion.

Georgetown has been committed to teaching in prisons in one way or another for almost forty years. The support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow us to redouble that commitment, with a bachelor’s degree and an expanded footprint in Maryland. We love to showcase the genius of students who are incarcerated—both their greatness and their goodness—because it points to the more fundamental fact that they are our neighbors and fellow citizens.

​​Because of mass incarceration, there are millions of people incarcerated in the US who would not be incarcerated in most of the rest of the world: generations of should-have-been undergraduates in prisons and jails who have been waiting for their chance to be that first year student in a philosophy class or to write that senior thesis on trade policy. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Georgetown is going to educate the next generation of formerly-incarcerated leaders who will help to reverse the policies that trapped them.

​​I’ve always argued that punishment requires mutual responsibility, and that one form of that mutual responsibility is a willingness to both teach and learn. We need to respond to harm with something other than more harm. Georgetown gets this, in part because of the Christian commitment to “visit the prisoner” and the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis, “care for the whole person.” That pedagogical ideal ends up meaning more than just “a sound mind in a sound body.” It means a commitment to serious attention to others, even students and even those we tend to ignore. Ignatius—himself formerly incarcerated—put it this way: “be slow to speak and patient in listening to all.” It’s the model for what we’re trying to do with prison education.

If those sound like your values, please apply!

Supervision is a Major Barrier to Reentry

I’m speaking today at the RAND Corporation on “Career Prospects for People with Criminal Records.” While I’m there, I’ll speak about our work at the Prisons and Justice Initiative (founded by Marc Howard) at Georgetown University, focusing on the education work: the Scholars Program, the Paralegal Program, and the Pivot Program.

In addition to discussing our programs and bragging about our graduates, I plan to make two points:

  1. Reentry is a difficult process. The formula we often use is “housing + employment = successful reentry.” For this reason, we generally find that the most successful pre-release strategies are mediation with family members (to guarantee housing upon release), and education (to guarantee employment.) BUT…
  2. Reentry is needlessly complicated by the court supervision processes of parole (and sometimes probation.)

When we say that the three year recidivism rate is 68% (which is what you’ll find when you look at Bureau of Justice Statistics) we’re saying that 68% of formerly incarcerated folks are rearrested for something–but not necessarily for a crime, and certainly not for a crime that has a victim. More often then not, recidivism is the result of technical parole violations. These are activities that are not themselves illegal, but violate the terms of a person’s parole and lead to a short (or sometimes long) stint of re-incarceration.

Parole can thus interfere with the building blocks of reentry: housing and employment. What I’ve observed is that the restrictions of parole around housing can leave DC residents housing-insecure or homeless–while the meddlesome nature of drug tests and CSO visits can lead many employed returning citizens to lose their jobs because they must continually leave work to race across the city for a timed urine sample, or stay home unexpectedly for a home inspection.

Parole officers are not always caring and concerned mentors, either. It’s rare–I’m sure!–but sometimes they can be rude and disrespectful, not only to the person on parole but to their employers and family members as well. All of this puts unneeded stress on frayed bonds that returning citizens need to take advantage of their second chance. It is something that potential employers have to factor in to their decision to hire returning citizens.

Some supervision agencies are working to provide alternative hours for employed returning citizens, and to punish disrespectful attitudes from officers. However, the ongoing stigma and skepticism directed at returning citizens means that enforcing these provisions remains difficult.

Ideally, we’d treat supervision in much the same way that we treat other factors that hamper full commitment to an employer: parents face similar pressures from school cancellations and illnesses, for instance, but to at least some extent we socially value these conflicts and thus work to manage the difficulties parents face–again, not adequately but to some extent. We can and should do the same for returning citizens who face difficulties from supervision and monitoring. But we do not accommodate them!

This failure to accommodate returning citizens is exacerbated when an individual applicant or employee has multiple intersecting strains: a family to care for, a parole officer to negotiate with, a chance of being re-incarcerated. Employers struggle to manage these risks, and so they resist hiring returning citizens–even when they are missing out on talented workers.

It may well be that court supervision serves important public safety goals. However, it is long past time for supervision itself to be assessed for its efficacy and evaluated according to its benefits and its economic (and human!) costs. We already know that supervision is creating serious obstacles to measuring the efficacy of every other reentry program, since it undermines the efficacy of measures of recidivism by aggregating technical parole violations with reoffenses. If the true measure of “corrections” is “desistance” then we will struggle to measure that against the backdrop of drug and alcohol screenings, GPS monitoring, and association violations.

It’s worth repeating this fact: the US incarcerates 2.3 million people, ten times the global average. What’s more, almost 70 million of our fellow citizens have a criminal record. It’s almost certainly not a good idea to discriminate against returning citizens, because it’s a signal that no other country provides, meaning most returning citizens would be employed if only they had had the good luck to be born outside of the US.

The New (Old) John Locke Manuscript on Catholics

Reasons for Tolerating Papists Equally with Others

I read about it in the Guardian yesterday, and my cousin at St. John’s found the digital copy right there on the internet in plain sight. Apparently no one had attempted to transcribe it yet? It’s a confusing document–looks like reading notes from some separate document, as there are page numbers which appear out of order in the manuscript.

Here is a rough first effort. Please share edits! The folks who discovered the original manuscript in Annapolis have published a transcription at the end of this article–I used it to correct my transcription, though the remaining errors are mine. (Especially impressed by them figuring out “lex talionis” which was really irking me.) Congrats to Walmsley and Waldmann for showing that archival work can be rewarding!

7 Persecution disobliges the best sort amongst the papist as well as amongst others.

12 If liberty of conscience makes all men faily more and more to abhor popery, papists may be tolerated as well as others.

13 If liberty of conscience breed men up in an irreconcilable dislike to all imposition in religion, Papists may be safely tolerated.

If liberty of conscience unite the Protestants against the Papists, Papists may be safely tolerated.

15 If toleration be the way to convert Papists as well as others, they may equally be tolerated.

16 If Papists can be supposed to be as good subjects as others they may be equally tolerated

17 If all subjects should be equally countenanced and employed? by the Prince, the Papist have an equal title.

If ability alone ought to prefer men to employment and the King ought not to lose the use of any part of his subjects, Papists are to be tolerated.

If liberty of conscience oblige all parties to the Prince and made them wholly depend upon him, then the Papists may be tolerated.

18 If to force dissenters to one’s opinion be contrary to the rule of religion and to no purpose, Papists should be tolerated.

20 If suffering for it will promote any opinion, Papists are to be tolerated.


3 The papsist can be as little satisfied with or reconciled to the government by toleration as restraint. Liberty of conscience being here intended to unite the protestants under one common interest, under one protector in opposition to them, and so can not oblige them.

3 Persecution of them alone can as little make them unite with the other parties, as toleration can make them divide amongst themselves. Both which effects follow a general toleration or persecution of other dissenters.

4 In punishing papists for their religion, you are not so liable to mistake ??? (agreement?) by prosecuting that as faction which is indeed conscience. For those who are guided  as in persecuting other dissenters for those who are absolutely disposed of by an authority supposed infallible, whose interests is directly opposed to yours, must necessarily be all factions however some of them may be similarly conscientious. 

Though persecution usually makes other opinions be sought after and admired; yet perhaps it is less apt to recommend popery than any other religion. 1st because persecution is its own practice and so begets less pity. 2ndly The principle and doctrine of that religion seem less apt to take inquisitive heads or unstable minds, men commonly in their voluntary changes do rather pursue liberty an enthusiasm, wherein they seem their own disposers, rather than give themselves up to the authority and imposition of others. Besides Popery, having been brought in and continued by power and force joined with the art and industry of the clergy, it is the most likely of any religion


to decay, where the secular power handles them severely or at the least takes from them those encouragement and supports they receive from their own clergy.

Query: Whether the Papists or Protestants gains most proselytes by the persecution they suffer in those changes at the beginning of the reformation?

7 Standards-by will be less dissatisfied with severity used to papists then to others because it is lex talionis. Besides he cannot be thought to be punished merely for conscience who owns himself at the same time the subject and adherent to an enemy prince.

8 That a prince ought to encourage knowledge, from whence springs a variety of opinions on religion, matters not at all for papists who own an implicit faith and acquiesce in ignorance and who may as well submit to the imposition of their own lawful prince, as those of a foreigner. The infallibility of both sides as being equal.

All the rest that is said (on page 8) favours the toleration of papists less than others.

9 Twill be less dangerous to discontent the papist when the other parties are pleased then now. Especially when indulgence will less secure you of their fidelity to the government then that of others. Every subject has an interest in the natural prince, whilst he does not own subjection to another power.

Liberty will less destroy the hopes and pretensions of papists that desire public mischief, then of others. Because they are backed by the foreign power and are obliged to propagate their religion by force. 

A small part of the trade of English is (I think) managed by papists ad the imposition of religion will lessen their trade


It is perhaps a reason why they should not be tolerated.

10 If it be the King’s interest to be head of the Protestants this bespeaks no indulgence for Papists. Unless the persecuting of them here will draw the same wage or worse upon the protestants beyond sea. And how far own that may be advantageous to us in the present posture off of affairs, can only be determined by those who can judge whether the Hugonots in France or Papists in England and likeliest to make head[way], to disturb the respective governments.

11 I doubt whether upon protestant principles we can justify punishing of Papists for their speculative opinions on Purgatory, transubstantiation, as if they stopped there. But possibly no reason nor religion obliges us to tolerate those who practical principles necessarily lead them to the eager prosecution of all opinions and the utter destruction of all societies, but their own so that it is not the difference of opinion, but their dangerous and factious foments in reference to the state which are blended with and make a part of their religion that excludes them from the benefit of toleration who would think it fit to tolerate either Presbyterian or Independent, if they made it a part of their religion to pay an implicit subjection to a foreign infallible power?

13 Severity to papists only cannot make them unity with any other party. nor toleration disunite them among themselves.

IRAA 3.0: Second Look Review for Adults

Today I am testifying on behalf of the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019, sometimes dubbed IRAA 3.0. The initial IRAA, the Incarceration Amendment Act, was designed to provide post-sentencing review to those who committed crimes as juveniles and were given life or near-life sentences. IRAA 2.0 extended eligibility and clarified some issues in the original bill, and the current incarnation is designed to provide that same post-sentencing review to those convicted of crimes from 18-25 years old.

I represent the Georgetown Pivot Program—a reentry program based at Georgetown University that began last year. I am also a DC resident, residing in Ward 4, and I support the Second Look Amendment Act.

No discussion of DC sentencing review can proceed without a few basic facts:

  1. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and more than 20% of the world’s prisoners.[1]
  2. Most of the march towards mass incarceration is driven by state-level policies rather than federal law. 83% of prisoners are incarcerated in state prisons and local jails.[2]
  3. DC has the highest incarceration rate of any state or territory in the US: yes, we have a higher incarceration rate than Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, or Georgia. When it comes to imprisoning our citizens, DC is #1.[3]
  4. The DC Council has repeatedly chosen policies that enhance sentences in a way that increases the number of our fellow citizens who are incarcerated, despite evidence that this is not making DC’s residents any safer. At the current incarceration rates, there is ample evidence that reducing sentencing at the margin would decrease crime.[4]
  5. Today, our crime rate is near its fifty-five year low—and a small recent uptick should not be cause to repeat the disastrous policies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s that got us our #1 status.
  6. Instead, we should work to reduce sentences across the board—we must become significantly less punitive or else continue to lose our fellow citizens to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.[5]
  7. The Second Look bill currently being considered does this in a very small way. Its greatest weakness is that it countenances post-sentencing modifications ONLY for those whose crimes were committed before the age of 25, on the theory that the young adult brain is still developing. However, we really ought to offer post-sentencing modifications for everyone regardless of age since we are assessing rehabilitation, not the degree of culpability.[6]
  8. The American Law Institute, an association of law faculty that maintain and amend the Model Penal Code, updated the MPC with Second Look post-sentencing review in 2017 in light of the inadequacies of parole board reviews. It behooves us to follow them, at least for those offenders who were 18-25 years old at the time of their offence.[7]
  9. A Second Look is an evaluation of rehabilitation: it gives us an opportunity to live up to the ideal of prisons as correctional rather than merely retributive. Punishment is—and must be—predicated on the idea that the offender, like the victim, is a member of our community who will have the opportunity to be restored to full membership.

At the Pivot Program we have 15 Pivot Fellows studying entrepreneurship alongside a traditional liberal arts curriculum, including two IRAA 1.0 clients. Through my work with the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, the Prison Scholars Program, and the Paralegal Program I’ve had the opportunity to work with several IRAA 1.0 clients, as well as many who would qualify for post-sentencing review under the Second Look legislation.

We are incredibly lucky to have started our programs at around the same time that the IRAA clients were returning to DC—and I can report that our programs both inside and outside the Jail are desperate for more participants like the ones that IRAA has granted us. 

Kareem McCraney, Charles Fantroy, Tyrone Walker, Halim Flowers, Troy Burner, Mustafa Zulu, and Momolu Stewart: I have been working with incarcerated students for almost a decade and these are among the best students I have taught in all that time. But we are just as excited to work with students who would qualify  for review under the Second Look Act. In particular I would highlight the current mentors on the Young Men Emerging unit at DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility: Joel Caston and Michael Woody.

Michael Woody and Joel Caston with Savannah Sellers

These men seem exceptional to all who meet them, and they are truly excellent students and teachers. But the truth is that there hundreds more like them among our fellow citizens imprisoned in the FBOP—men and women whose talents are currently unavailable to us here in the District, and slated to be wasted for decades longer, because they received very long sentences for crimes committed after their 18th birthday, yet while they were still too young to have the full cognitive capacities of adulthood.

I want to point to three challenges that will continue to plague returning citizens in DC, whether from IRAA-style post-sentencing reviews or the 5,000 citizens returning to the District every year:

  1. Returning citizens still face significant obstacles to employment for crimes that are unrelated to the types of work they pursue. The stigma of incarceration is still far too great, and the best evidence suggests that merely “banning the box” without other supports extends this stigma to all young Black and Latino men. Thus we simply MUST find ways to create fewer returning citizens by incarcerating fewer of our fellow citizens in the first place, and to create positive employment signals for returning citizens that will combat this stigma. 
  2. Housing insecurity is a major problem for returning citizens generally—and this has hit the Pivot Program in predictable ways, with several promising fellows losing significant class and internship time as formerly-secure housing situations became unsettled. The Pivot Fellows were DC residents before they were shipped off to the Federal Bureau of Prisons but they have returned to a rapidly and severely gentrifying city. Often their reentry plans require them to reside with family members who have left the District in the intervening years—and this effectively outsources our obligations to Virginia and Maryland. Allowing former DC residents to secure residency status through MORCA so that they can continue to access DC’s reentry programs while temporarily residing outside of the District is the least we can do for them. As I have tried to show, we otherwise risk losing some extraordinary human capital to other localities.
  3. Finally, our program is highly dependent on the $10/hr subsidized training wage from DC DOES which supports both the Pivot Fellows’ education and work experience. The training wage is designed to be unpalatably low so as to incentive the search for full-time unsubsidized employment, which isn’t fully compatible with our program’s goal of keeping Pivot fellows engaged over the whole ten month program. At Georgetown we subsidize these stipends to raise the effective hourly rate to $15/hour. It would be helpful to our work if they were able to cover a living wage either as a base rate or as an incentive bonus for consistent performance. While we are happy to subsidize the DC DOES stipend in this cohort,  continuing to do so is a significant private philanthropy burden that will hamper our ability to scale. If DC is serious about raising the minimum wage, then training wages like those offered by Pivot and Project Empowerment must rise as well.

DC is in an enviable position: we are poised to do the right thing for all our fellow citizens. We should pass Second Look, end a significant injustice, and reap the dividends. Thank you for your time.

Footnotes (aka The Receipts)


[1] Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html

[2] Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019.html

[3] Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html

[4] James Forman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017) and Daniel Roodman, The Impacts of Incarceration on Crime, Open Philanthropy Project 2017, available at: https://www.openphilanthropy.org/files/Focus_Areas/Criminal_Justice_Reform/The_impacts_of_incarceration_on_crime_10.pdf

[5] Urban Institute, A Matter of Time, available at: http://apps.urban.org/features/long-prison-terms/a_matter_of_time_print_version.pdf

[6] Gideon Yaffe, The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility. (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2018)

[7] Richard Frase, Second Look Provisions in the Proposed Model Penal Code Revisions, 21 Fed. Sentencing R. 194 (2009), available at http://scholarship.law.umn.edu/faculty_articles/522 and Meghan J. Ryan, Taking Another Look at Second-Look Sentencing, 81 Brook. L. Rev. (2015). Available at: http://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/blr/vol81/iss1/4

Entrepreneurship and Returning Citizens

(I’ve spent a good deal of the last six months working on the Pivot Program that launched last month. Pivot combines internships with college-level classes in business, entrepreneurship, the liberal arts, and humanities. Now that journalists are starting to cover it, I can share some reflections from this work!)

Washington, DC has the highest incarceration rate in the country. And this country has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than 8,000 people go to prison or jail from DC each year, and each year more than 5,000 come back.

That means that there are probably 67,000 “justice-involved” DC residents, and while we have fairly strong “ban the box” laws in place it’s clear that a history of incarceration still affects people’s prospects. From my work with incarcerated students at JCI developing the Prison Scholars Program and the UB Second Chance College Program, I’ve often heard from students inside that they want more training in business and entrepreneurship. They recognize that one way to avoid discrimination in the job market is to work for themselves. (There are still many other collateral consequences of a conviction that can trip them up.)

Now, most of my friends are in the liberal arts, and so we’re all just a little suspicious of business schools. The dismal science of economics as a kind of worldly philosophy makes sense to us: the myths tell us that the ancient philosopher Thales fell into a well while staring at the sky,  but his observations meant that he was also able to predict the weather and corner the market on olive oil presses. Business as a vocation (like law,  medicine, the military, or the clergy) is a modern fact that confuses traditionalists and enrages critics of capitalism.

Yet at its best, an entrepreneur is someone who looks around them and asks: what can I do to serve my fellow citizens? What can we do to improve the world? What should we do together? Many entrepreneurs do not start their own businesses: they work within existing institutions to change and improve them. Cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset is about helping participants see themselves as agents who can plan and co-create value with their customers, neighbors, and fellow citizens. Seeing oneself as efficacious and mutually responsible is thus an important element of entrepreneurship. 

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recognize that what I described above is also the way that we in civic studies describe citizenship. It’s an idea from Hannah Arendt, Elinor Ostrom, and Jane Mansbridge: to act as a co-creator of our shared world. I think, at its best, that entrepreneurship is a particular approach to citizenship, and not simply a matter of disrupting older industries in pursuit of profit. It’s about trying to find new ways of being of use to each other. And people with a history of incarceration are increasingly marginalized and rendered superfluous in our society–they need and deserve a way of being treated as dignified and valuable.

Obviously, we cannot ignore the issue of race and racism. Mass incarceration has been called “The New Jim Crow” because it disproportionately hurts African-Americans and their communities. There can be no doubt that incarceration in the United States is driven by white supremacy, even in cities like Washington, DC that were majority Black during the time that they incarcerated so many. (See James Forman’s work for more on this theme!)

It also disproportionately targets the poor: one study found that over the past thirty years, between 40 and 60 percent of prison inmates were below the federal poverty line at the time of their most recent arrest. More recent work suggests that incarcerated individuals have pre-incarcerated incomes 41% lower than their non-incarcerated peers. Raising returning citizens out of poverty is a moral obligation, if for no other reason than to prevent further crime and incarceration!

Those least well-served by our District’s schools are also most likely to be incarcerated. Nationally formerly incarcerated people are twice as likely as the general public to have no high school credential at all, and more than six times more likely to have a GED. I think this means that incarceration is not (just) an individual failure, and we can be sure that its costs are not just born by the incarcerated. Children of the incarcerated are massively more likely to be incarcerated themselves, and neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration are made poorer by the loss of their neighbors. Each imprisoned man or woman has talents that are lost to their communities, and the stigma of a criminal record perpetuates that loss after their release.

Sometimes the rhetoric of “human capital” hurts my heart. Prisoners and formerly imprisoned people are not just lost wages and unfounded startups: they’re our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings. They’re my friends and my students! But in a world dominated by profit, loss, growth, and stagnation it seems to work better to make the argument about “hidden gems in the rough.” That’s fine: if that’s what it takes to oppose mass incarceration today, that’s what we’ll do. But the United States has millions more people incarcerated than it ought to have–and we need to tackle that sooner rather than later.

We know that the Pivot Fellows can be leaders. I’ve seen this firsthand with the Friend of a Friend Program and the Alternatives to Violence Project. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who succeed in college courses develop the leadership skills that are useful both inside and outside the prison system. Imprisoned college students and graduates frequently become positive role models for younger prisoners, and have created service programs that focus on conflict resolution, youth development and other issues that are critical to personal transformation. Formerly incarcerated professionals like Dwayne Betts, Shon Hopwood, and Chris Wilson are both positive role models and reminders of that lost talent locked away in our nations’ prisons and jails. But these extraordinary men are not so unusual–there are tens of thousands more like them behind bars. I am certain that the Pivot Program will be the incubator for some who I will soon be glad to list alongside them.

Georgetown is making great strides in its Jesuit commitments to “visit the prisoner.” We’ve developed credit-bearing courses at the DC Jail, and a Paralegal Studies Program for former jailhouse lawyers in partnership with the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs. I’m incredibly proud to work with the team at the Prisons and Justice Initiative and the McDonough School of Business.