Several Civil Survival members recently traveled to Indianapolis to participate in the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. The conference is a space where students, teachers, advocates and allies can meet to develop networks and share learning in support of expanding access to higher education in U.S. prisons and empowering students in prison after release. Civil Survival Board Members Christopher Beasley and Noel Vest shared their work with participants in panel discussions and workshops.

Dr. Beasley is a co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network (FICGN). The mission of FICGN is to promote the education and empowerment of formerly incarcerated people through the power of a collective community. Dr. Beasley held a meet and greet session and Moderated a panel of FICGN co-founders to discuss FICGN’s history and future. The panelists discussed the strength of the network, which includes 1,000 formerly incarcerated college graduates across 41 states and the District of Columbia. They also detailed strategies used to develop it, challenges faced and future directions for building the movement. Later in the program Dr. Beasley participated on a panel about a consortium of prison-based and post-prison education programs in Washington which he has been involved in developing. Finally, Dr. Beasley co-hosted a workshop to develop tools that colleges and universities can use to better welcome and support formerly incarcerated students.

Noel Vest also spoke at the conference about the work he did for the Fair Chances in Higher Education Act, which prohibits state colleges and universities from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on their initial applications. Once a candidate is determined to be otherwise qualified, the school can ask about criminal history to decide whether to accept or deny each particular applicant. Mr. Vest got the idea for this legislation after attending another meeting of the National Conference for Higher Education in Prison in Dallas, where he heard about “Ban the Box” legislation in other states. After doing follow-up research on the issue he worked closely with Civil Survival Board member Gina Castillo to quickly introduce a bill in the Washington State legislature. Several Civil Survival Members gave heartfelt testimony about their personal stories in order to support the bill, which was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee last March.

Many other panel discussions about access to higher education for justice involved individuals took place over the course of the conference. All who participated were encouraged by the progress being made around the country to remove barriers to success by making higher education accessible for all.