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IDOC, Northwestern Prison Education Program announce first statewide admissions

Program received a record number of applications – nearly 400 individuals applied

This month, more than 20 students recently accepted into the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) — the only bachelor’s degree-granting program for incarcerated students offered by a top 10 university in the United States, will begin classes at Stateville Correctional Center.

“NPEP is the gateway, the entrance, into a world of scholars, freedom educators, and amazing, beautiful people,” said Demetrius Cunningham, one of the students recently accepted into NPEP. “It’s a dream come true.”

Donnell Green, another recently admitted NPEP student, shared similar feelings. “When an incarcerated individual says they want to make the best of their situation — being an NPEP student is what they mean.”

This new addition will make up NPEP’s third cohort of students at Stateville Correctional Center. These students will join the first and second cohorts of NPEP students who are currently working on their bachelor’s degrees.

“Cohorts 1 and 2 have welcomed me like family,” said Shawn Thigpen, a Cohort 3 student.

“I finally found a family who loves and truly has care for me,” said Jacob Currey, another Cohort 3 student, of the existing NPEP students. “They connect, assess, respond, and encourage.”

For this most recent round of admissions, NPEP’s Admissions Committee — made up of Northwestern administrators and faculty members— received nearly 400 applications from individuals at facilities across the state of Illinois. In addition to the 20 students accepted into NPEP earlier this year, 20 more students from the applicant pool will join NPEP this summer as members of the program’s fourth cohort.

Latoya Hughes, Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections said, “The Department is committed to expanding post-secondary partnerships to increase access to higher education in our facilities. IDOC is grateful to Northwestern University for its collaboration in opening up this life-changing opportunity, previously only offered to those already at Stateville Correctional Center, to individuals in facilities across the state for the first time. Congratulations to the new cohort of students who completed a competitive and rigorous application process to gain acceptance into the program and have a chance to transform themselves through the power of education.”

Jennifer Lackey, the Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program and the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law (courtesy) at Northwestern University, said that the new students passed several rounds of rigorous review, including interviews conducted at facilities throughout Illinois.

“We are delighted to be welcoming them to Stateville, where they will participate in a program dedicated to the highest standards in academic excellence,” Lackey said. “Even more importantly, they are joining a community of scholars who lift up each other’s voices and work every day to create a better world for themselves, for their loved ones and for society as a whole.”

In 2022, the first cohort of NPEP students earned their associate degrees from Oakton. In Fall 2023, that same cohort will make history as the first incarcerated students in the U.S. to receive their bachelor’s degrees from a top 10 university.

In addition to joining fellow students at Stateville, NPEP has ushered in newfound hope and direction for its most recent community members.

One of the new Cohort 3 students, Brandon Perkins, described how many of his family members have been incarcerated. NPEP has given him “the opportunity to be the first person on his paternal side to graduate from university.”

Likewise, Taki Peacock, a Cohort 3 student, believes that participating in NPEP means that his “value has been recognized and someone else sees that I am so much more than my mistakes!”

Launched in 2018, NPEP was the first program to offer a comprehensive, degree-granting liberal arts curriculum to incarcerated students in Illinois. In partnership with Oakton College and the Illinois Department of Corrections, NPEP offers an Associate of General Studies degree conferred by Oakton Community College. Upon completion of this degree, students are eligible to apply to Northwestern University for a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in social sciences from Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies. All NPEP courses are credit-bearing and taught by faculty members at Northwestern and Oakton and by advanced graduate students at Northwestern with content and expectation equivalent to those on the Chicago, Des Plaines, Evanston, and Skokie campuses.

For those interested in applying, applications for admission to NPEP’s fifth cohort at Stateville Correctional Center will open in Spring 2024.

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