Drew’s Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons (PREP) to relaunch in spring 2022
January 2022 – Drew Theological School remains committed to restorative justice and reentry efforts through the relaunch of its Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons Program (PREP).
Drew PREP, which has been offering classes in two New Jersey prisons for more than a decade, brings the Drew classroom into the prison setting with the goal of equally educating both incarcerated (“inside”) and Theological School (“outside”) students through the sharing of diverse experiences, identities, and belief systems. More than half of the Theological School faculty and more than 100 inside and outside students have studied together in Edna Mahan and Northern State correctional facilities in New Jersey.
The program, which had been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is relaunching in the spring 2022 semester with a new initiative to offer the first graduate level certificate program in the state of New Jersey. The certificate will be piloted at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey.
Drew’s PREP certificate in religious leadership and social transformation is available to inside students, and a certificate in restorative justice and prison ministries is available to Drew Theological School master’s degree students. The program builds a theological, analytical, and practical foundation for developing religious leadership skills for social transformation.
“Not only are we back, but back for the first time with a program that is completely about transformative leadership,” said Traci West, James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and African American Studies, who will teach the first class at East Jersey State Prison. “This is an opportunity for inside and outside students to sit next to each other and talk about transforming communities and the type of leadership that is desperately needed in this fractious, tense historical moment—both inside and outside. We’ll address issues of race, community conversation, and leadership resources.”
"PREP's innovative combined classes are transformative for outside students called to congregational ministry as they learn with and from inside students who are not recipients of their mercy or mission, but colleagues in learning."
“Developing a credit-bearing graduate program for inside students is a dream we have been pursuing since PREP began. Creating educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons is deeply resonant with the Theological School’s mission to ‘empower creative thought and courageous action to advance justice, peace and love of God, neighbor, and the earth,’” said Theological School Interim Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, who has taught several classes in the PREP program. “PREP’s innovative combined classes are transformative for outside students called to congregational ministry as they learn with and from inside students who are not recipients of their mercy or mission, but colleagues in learning.”
To launch the program, PREP is partnering with the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) and the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) initiative, which already provides associate’s and bachelor’s degree-level educational services to the New Jersey incarcerated population.
The Theological School is a founding member of NJ-STEP, a consortium of schools based at Rutgers University and also includes Princeton University and Raritan Valley Community College.
“It's a struggle for all of us to dedicate our lives to creating genuinely compassionate and just communities on the outside. PREP is welcoming, integrated, and offers a sense of belonging."
Charlotte Mallory, retired chaplain supervisor at the NJDOC, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, has been involved with PREP since the first course was offered by Drew in 2007. “It was amazing, we had a big class of about 10 inside students along with 10 outside students. Everyone was so excited to take the class together. PREP is unique in that, from its very inception, we take students from the Drew campus into the prison—with all students treated equally.” Mallory will serve as a coordinator for the launch of the first course in the PREP certificate this spring.
Nearly 95 percent of individuals incarcerated in New Jersey will return to the community. Drew’s PREP program provides an opportunity to prepare for the transition out through education by providing guidance, skills, and confidence. “I believe that education gives students, especially those that are on the inside, such a good feeling about their own value and worth,” said Mallory. “We provide restorative and transformative justice to reenter the community.”
“It’s a struggle for all of us to dedicate our lives to creating genuinely compassionate and just communities on the outside. PREP is welcoming, integrated, and offers a sense of belonging,” echoed West. “The PREP program is at the heart of what I am called to do as a professor at a seminary.”