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Education Behind the Wall

Education Behind the Wall addresses significant issues faced by faculty and administrators who implement access to college classes for people who are incarcerated. Through case studies chapters that highlight strengths and obstacles to teaching different disciplines behind the wall, this edited volume looks at the trade-offs that take place when teaching in carceral spaces. Overall, the book advocates for an analysis of power as fundamental to learning in both carceral and traditional campuses.

EPI Alumni and Student Accomplishments


To learn more about college in prison, please visit our library resource guide.

Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) Language Guidelines


Language is powerful. The way we talk about people who are or were incarcerated shapes perception of them. Humanizing language is an important initiative to shape public perception as well as the self image of those with criminal records. To aid this effort, it is important to emphasize humane representation of those who are or were incarcerated. This language practice guide seeks to identify people as people first, and to not be solely defined by their carceral experiences. EPI asks that you consider the following language guidelines.


EPI suggests avoiding negative terms that de-emphasize a person’s humanity such as “prisoner,” “inmate,” “convict,” and “felon.” These more punitive terms connote people as lacking agency and solely defined by their interactions with the criminal justice system. If people with lived experiences of incarceration choose to self-define with these terms, it is not our place to criticize that. However, people who do not have that lived experience can set an agentive framework by using the terms below.


EPI suggests using terms that emphasize a person’s agency and humanity, in either person-first or identity-first phrasing:

  • Students who are incarcerated, or incarcerated students
  • Person who is currently incarcerated, or incarcerated person
  • Person who was formerly incarcerated, or formerly incarcerated person
  • Person on parole or paroled person
  • Person recently released from prison

For EPI, students are college students first. EPI students are enrolled Emerson College students, and we want their dignity as students to be foregrounded.

Also, what EPI and other programs like it offer is “education in prison,” which is comparable to the college education provided to Emerson College students on the Boston campus. This is distinct from “prison education,” which is programming operated by Departments of Correction across the United States.

Thank you for keeping these terminology guidelines in mind as you discuss the EPI program in media, research, or everyday conversation.