Books Behind Bars program to launch at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail
The Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail is launching a program that will let jail residents find purpose, earn college credit and position themselves for success upon their release and re-entry into our community.
For the past two years, the Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has spearheaded bringing the UVA academic course, Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Leadership, to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
After many months of hard work and dedicated commitment, this pilot project is set to launch this fall.
Books Behind Bars will partner UVA undergraduate students with ACRJ inmates in a semester-long class exploring life topics through Russian literature. This unique approach to higher education within a correctional setting will focus on rehabilitation and reentry.
“President Biden has proclaimed April to be Second Chance Month, underscoring the importance of transitioning individuals back into the community after their release from incarceration,” said Joe Platania, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney. “Our office firmly believes that effective prosecution recognizes rehabilitation and re-entry as concepts that benefit both returning citizens and the community at large. Books Behind Bars is an innovative approach that helps to promote and further second chances.”
“Our office’s partnership with Professor Kaufman at the University of Virginia and Superintendent Martin Kumer at the Regional Jail underscores a groundbreaking and transformative commitment to true criminal justice system reform,” Platania said.
University of Virginia professor Andrew Kaufman created a community-based literature course in 2009 called Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Leadership that pairs University students with incarcerated youth at a maximum security juvenile correctional center in Beaumont.
Inspired by his life’s work studying and teaching Russian literature, language and culture, Kaufman’s goal was for his students to explore personally meaningful questions that range from family to death, from success to moral responsibility, all within the context of Russian literature. He hoped to inspire students on both sides of the prison bars to dig deeper and think more fully than perhaps they ever had about their life’s meaning and purpose.
Recently, Ken Bain, international education expert and bestselling author, has featured Books Behind Bars in his new book, Super Courses, which profiles a small handful of classes from around the world that Bain argues are revolutionizing higher-ed teaching in the twenty-first century.
In 2018, the documentary film, “Seats at the Table,” by Charlottesville director Chris Farina, premiered. It was a first-hand, intimate look at the program, and it showed the transformative power of education and the meaningful change that can occur for both the UVA students and residents.
The film captures the power of meaningful conversations and the ability of literature to break down stereotypes and create lasting connections.
The film continues to air on PBS throughout 2021 and 2022.