EPI provides students incarcerated at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord (MCI-Concord) with an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in media, literature and culture from Emerson College.

    Program History

    Emerson College launched the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) in 2017. The program’s mission is to democratize access to college education for those who are marginalized. Operating at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord (MCI-Concord), a men’s medium-security prison, EPI acts on the knowledge that college-in-prison programs can help stop the cycle of incarceration. It affirms Emerson’s faith in the abiding value of a liberal arts education by offering the same courses taught to students on Emerson’s main campus: classes that focus on arts and communication; bear official Emerson credits; and are taught by Emerson faculty as well as guest faculty from other local colleges. Through a carefully constructed curriculum of these courses, EPI provides a pathway to an Emerson College Bachelor of Arts in Media, Literature, and Culture, a degree that combines Emerson’s strengths in media studies, literary studies, and the liberal arts. 

    EPI belongs to the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, an umbrella organization based at the Bard Prison Initiative. EPI’s first cohort of 20 students was selected through a rigorous admissions process that included in-person interviews and an essay exam scored by a faculty and staff panel. The acceptance rate was 23 percent. A second cohort of 20 students was admitted in May 2021, with an acceptance rate of 40 percent.

    EPI courses meet all standard requirements of the Emerson BA for assessment, reading and writing output, and skill sequencing. In their course outlines, faculty enumerate clear and measurable learning outcomes that reflect the academic standards expected in each field of study. EPI students are held to the same achievement expectations and general education requirements as any other students who enroll in an Emerson College BA program, and their academic success is comparably assessed, through course grades, curricular scaffolding, and degree completion. After an extensive accreditation process with the New England Commission of Higher Education in 2021, MCI-Concord became an approved degree-granting campus of Emerson College. In 2022, EPI began offering courses at Northeastern Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for men, in order to provide academic continuity for students as their status changes within the Department of Correction.

    In August 2022, ten students from Cohort 1 became the first to complete EPI and earn their degrees from Emerson College while incarcerated.

    EPI Values

    • Access to higher education benefits both individuals and society. All people have the potential to build the critical skills and broad knowledge higher education provides. 
    • College and its associated skills help create community members who are informed and better prepared to be active and engaged decision-makers. Seeing and intervening in structural inequities is fundamental to social transformation.
    • Public safety must be redefined to include restorative justice, the redressing of harm, and tools for personal transformation.  
    • College in prison works to break down the isolation and dehumanization that many people experience when they are involved in the carceral system. Through our work, we seek to make visible the way that intellectual connections help repair the harms of incarceration.
    • Upholding the integrity of the college process in prison is part of charting new ways of relating to one another.
    • We prioritize the inherent value of all people regardless of circumstance. We ascribe to an ethics of care as educators that shapes our responsibilities toward students. 
    • Honoring individual agency is key to this work. Students are active participants in their own learning pathways.
    • Responsibility, transparency, and accountability are necessary parts of our conduct as an organization.


    EPI Advisory Council

    • Lizzy Cooper Davis
    • Mneesha Gellman (Founding Director)
    • Natalie Hill
    • Kim McLarin
    • Cara Moyer-Duncan (Assistant Director)
    • Yasser Munif
    • Joshua Polster
    • Stephen Shane (Site Coordinator)
    • Joshua Wachs
    • Wendy Walters