Teaching Biology in a Maximum-Security Prison Unit: Feedback, Notes and Recommendations from a Pilot Class
We, a team of students and faculty in the life sciences at Arizona State University (ASU), currently teach an Introduction to Biology course in a Level 5, or maximum-security unit with the support of the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Prison Education Program at ASU. This course aims to enhance current programs at the unit by offering inmates an opportunity to practice literacy and math skills, while also providing exposure to a new academic field (science, and specifically biology). Numerous studies, including a 2005 study from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), have found that vocational programs, including prison education programs, reduce recidivism rates (ADC 2005, Esperian 2010, Jancic 1988, Steurer et al. 2001, Ubic 2002) and may provide additional benefits such as engagement with a world outside the justice system (Duguid 1992), the opportunity for inmates to revise personal patterns of rejecting education that they may regret, and the ability of inmate parents to deliberately set a good example for their children (Hall and Killacky 2008). Teaching in a maximum security prison unit poses special challenges, which include a prohibition on most outside materials (except paper), severe restrictions on student-teacher and student-student interactions, and the inability to perform any lab exercises except limited computer simulations. Lack of literature discussing theoretical and practical aspects of teaching science in such environment has prompted us to conduct an ongoing study to generate notes and recommendations from this class through the use of surveys, academic evaluation of students' work and ongoing feedback from both teachers and students to inform teaching practices in future science classes in high-security prison units.