And Still We are Not Free: The School-Prison Nexus in Higher Education

Joby Gardner, Asif Wilson, Shanita Bigelow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Institutions of higher education are presented as vital pathways to economic mobility, particularly for working class, first generation, and students of color. Yet the inequitable outcomes produced by post-secondary institutions suggest structures and systems of exclusion and enclosure. In this critical mixed methods case study, we explore the relationship between the mission-driven claims of access/opportunity and the carceral functioning of colleges and universities. To do so, we draw on frameworks of the prison industrial complex (PIC), school-prison nexus (SPN), and abolitionist analyses to analyze publicly available documents from a mid-sized urban community college district, documents that detail critical contradictions between mission, practice, and outcomes. Our findings reveal investment in security and surveillance over student support, normalized and racialized academic failure, and the criminalization of common forms of campus political protest. These findings suggest the force and extent of the school-prison nexus–a framework typically applied to Pk-12 schools–in one mid-sized urban community college district, and, by extension, in colleges and universities more generally. This work is significant (1) for its novel contribution to theorizing extensions of the school-prison nexus in higher education and (2) the concrete, empirical data we offer detailing the functioning of this nexus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCommunity College Journal of Research and Practice
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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