Curricular materials for the American Prison Newspapers (APN) collection have been curated to facilitate scholarly research and discovery about incarceration in the United States. As primary source documents, prison newspapers provide a unique and necessary voice for studying mass incarceration and a vast dimension of media history. Spanning two centuries, the APN collection provides critical insight and commentary on the evolution of the United States penal system while also demonstrating how prison journalism establishes and maintains community and connection both behind and beyond prison walls.
The teaching materials are interdisciplinary, covering a range of fields such as Sociology, Law, Gender and Sexuality, History, Education, and Literature. Some of the materials include reading/viewing lists, instructional guides, and assignments for instructors to use or modify for use with their students. Furthermore, development of the APN curriculum was designed in response to the Ithaka S+R research report, “Teaching with Primary Sources: Supporting the Needs of Instructors.” With feedback from over 300 instructors, findings from the report indicated that teaching with primary sources requires specific pedagogical practices such as ‘scaffolding exposure’ and ‘inspiring student curiosity.’ Moreover, the teaching materials have been designed so that they are befitting for 21st century learning: a curriculum that promotes skills such as cultural competence, information and media literacy, critical thinking, and creativity. To that end, APN curricular materials are student-centered, accessible, and inquiry-based.
This reading list functions as a short syllabus to introduce students to the issue of prisoners’ rights. One item included on the syllabus is the United Nations’ “Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners,” a proclamation published and adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. The proclamation is an international document meant to function as a framework to ensure the inherent worth and dignity of incarcerated people. When paired with Harry Elmer Barnes’ “The Historical Origin of the Prison System in America,” which was published in 1921, students will be able to develop a contextual understanding of the carceral system and explore how prisons have or have not worked to meet the principles as outlined in the United Nations’ proclamation.
The syllabus features five other items that explore issues such as solitary confinement, women’s prison labor, and the Prisoners’ Right Movement. Exploring these issues through mediums such TED Talks and short documentaries allow instructors to diversify how students access knowledge and improve their listening skills. This is especially beneficial for 21st century classrooms where the integration of technology and multimedia is encouraged. Therefore, teaching materials for the collection further maximize both student and instructor engagement by meeting the demands of 21st century learning, which requires students to have strong competencies in producing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from a variety of sources and subjects.
This instructional guide centers LGBTQ+ History Month and the experiences of queer women in prison. Not only does the guide bring focus to the prison newspaper Issues in the Indiana Women’s Prison, but it also provides step by step instructions for incorporating supplemental reading material so that students can engage in small group or whole class discussions with one another. While the instructional guide includes a specially curated reading list of peer reviewed articles on topics of sexuality, identity, and imprisonment, the guide also has hyperlinks throughout that direct readers to additional material. For example, the guide links Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED Talk on intersectionality, which provides a theoretical framework for exploring incarceration through a lens of sexuality and gender. The guide also links to a visual report about the mistreatment LGBTQ+ people face in prison, which was published by the Prison Policy Initiative–a leading nonprofit organization that produces research and advocacy around mass incarceration.
The guide also provides readers with a summary of one woman’s experience with sexuality-based discrimination while she was incarcerated at the Indiana Women’s prison. Therefore, readers know the exact piece to go to in the newspaper itself. However, there is also potential to further explore other topics/issues the women’s prison newspaper reveals. For example, this particular newspaper issue also features a story about giving birth while shackled. As a result, the guide pinpoints a specific focus of study while simultaneously allowing for further research and discovery. Prioritizing newspapers from women’s facilities is a special priority for the collection as a whole: women’s experiences reveal a unique perspective about imprisonment and its impact on identity.
Engaging with the American Prison Newspaper collection requires detailed and thorough contextualization, which can be a daunting task for both instructors and students. Some of the newspapers have hundreds of issues. Furthermore, one issue can report on a myriad of topics and can be as short as 5 pages to as long as 30 pages. For that reason, forthcoming materials include brief instructional videos that highlight a specific topic/area of focus and assignment sheets for students to complete a specific reading, writing, or research tasks with an innovative way to present their results/findings.