The Most Interesting People I Know

17 - Rob Scott on Teaching College in Prison

November 24, 2019

Rob Scott is the Executive Director of the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), which he has led since 2013. Under his leadership CPEP has expanded operations from one to four prisons and now serves over 200 incarcerated students. Rob also helped form state and national coalitions for higher education in prisons. In 2016, he was recognized as one of 10 White House “Champions of Change” for his work with CPEP. 

In college, I co-founded the Prison Reform and Education Project (PREP) and got to know Rob, who eventually served as our faculty adviser. As we discuss, I was also a volunteer teaching assistant with CPEP. Rob was one of the first people who came to mind when I conceived of this podcast, but has been a little busy being a new father the past few months, so this conversation was a long time coming. 

We discuss:

How Rob got started in prison education, how prison education has gone from boot-strapped projects done in the shadows to flagship programs supported by major universities, how the era of Pell grants in prisons was not all it's cracked up to be, how CPEP works, why crime may have declined, the power of language in our self concept, the experience of teaching in prison, a better definition of crime, the limitations of attempting to change oppressive institutions from the inside, the tenuous state of Pell grants for incarcerated people, Rob's complicated stance on prison abolition, the small “d” democratic origins of incarceration as punishment, and restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration.

Rob is an incredibly thoughtful and selfless guy, and his opinions consistently surprise me. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.

Links:

Reasonable Doubt: A New Look at Whether Prison Growth Cuts Crime

My very angry tweet thread about Bret Stephens’s stupid take on the 1994 Crime Bill

Games Criminals Play: How You Can Profit by Knowing Them

Shane Bauer’s article: My four months as a private prison guard

Shane's book: American Prison

Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish

Snopes: the somewhat true story comparing Felicity Huffman’s 14 day sentence to a homeless woman’s 5 year sentence for purportedly lying to get her kid into a better public school

NPR: Former Physician at Rikers Island Exposes Health Risks of Incarceration