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UW, State Department of Corrections Receive National Award

August 7, 2017

Wyoming Pathways from Prison (WPfP), a collaborative program involving University of Wyoming faculty, staff, and students and the Wyoming Department of Corrections that provides educational opportunities to incarcerated persons, has received national attention.

Betty Abbott, Wyoming Department of Corrections education programs manager, recently accepted the Austin MacCormick Award, an honor that recognizes best practices in correctional education that can be replicated nationwide. UW Gender and Women’s Studies Program Associate Professor Susan Dewey co-presented with Abbott on their ongoing work, where the award was presented at the annual Correctional Education Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Dewey says their presentation was received with “much interest and fanfare.”

“I am so proud that this collaboration between the Wyoming Department of Corrections has been nationally recognized for its innovative spirit and hard work in developing WPfP. We are now a model for university-corrections partnerships nationwide,” Dewey says.

WPfP, co-coordinated by Dewey, Katy Brock, Rhett Epler and Alec Muthig, and in consultation with Abbott and other Wyoming Department of Corrections staff, is a transdisciplinary and transprofessional statewide program that promotes higher education and helps develop life skills for currently and formerly incarcerated persons in the state.

“Since summer 2016, WPfP has consistently offered high-quality college courses at no cost to incarcerated women and men, and will continue to grow,” Dewey says. “Wyoming Pathways from Prison maintains a strong partnership with the Wyoming Department of Corrections.”

Dewey is a public anthropologist whose research focuses on the intersections between violence and the feminization of poverty in women’s criminal justice system involvement. 

The program stemmed from a research project that was developed in 2014 through August 2015. Leading the project were UW Gender and Women’s Studies Program Professors Dewey and Cathy Connolly, former UW Professor Bonnie Zare and Rhett Epler, UW marketing graduate student.

Team members conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with 71 women currently and formerly incarcerated in Wyoming. Their work indicated great potential for success in providing increased educational opportunities to incarcerated women, Dewey says.

UW provides a regular rotation of faculty, staff and supervised students to teach at multiple state correctional facilities through in-person and remote instruction conducted via technology.

WPfP has had a successful peer tutoring initiative, Dewey says. The foundation of the peer tutoring program is to provide educational mentorship within the incarcerated population, while assisting to increase their individual literacy skills, family literacy skills, communication skills and relationship skills, which will transfer to higher academic achievement, employability and social confidence. The peer tutoring program was led by Brock, a UW doctoral student whose work focuses on providing educational opportunities for underserved and diverse populations. To date, 29 women in the Wyoming Women’s Center (WWC), in Lusk, have been trained as peer tutors.

In the spring of 2017, Brock also taught a successful course at WWC, titled “Women in Society.” The course was designed to explore the social and familial roles of American women, and how those roles have evolved over time.

This fall, Brock will lead WPfP’s first for-credit class at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington. The class, “Survival: What Lies Within,” is designed to help students understand that, while surviving physically in the wilderness or unforeseen circumstances is a fantastic feat, surviving life emotionally and mentally in everyday life is equally as impressive, Brock says.

The program co-coordinator, Muthig, a UW Information Technology training program manager, is assisting with expanding remote teaching technologies into Wyoming correctional facilities and developing infrastructure to foster continued growth of the program.

He collaborated with members of UW’s Department of Philosophy this summer to co-teach a successful stoicism program to 33 incarcerated men at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp and Wyoming Boot Camp facilities.

Since the inception of the program, WPfP has offered six college credit courses, with all courses having many more applicants than can be accommodated. Since the summer of 2016, 172 college credits have been earned by women living in the Wyoming Women’s Center, Brock says.

Dewey and Epler also helped organize the 2016 National Conference on Higher Education in Prison held in Nashville, Tenn.

For more information about WPfP, visit the website at www.uwyo.edu/wpfp/ or email Dewey at sdewey3@uwyo.edu.


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Chad Baldwin

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