For over a decade, the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project (YUPP) has worked with people incarcerated, primarily with young people at Manson Correctional Youth Facility, providing educational services like GED tutoring and mentoring, as well as additional learning opportunities through discussion groups. YUPP is currently expanding our direct service tutoring services to York Correctional. Located in East Lyme, Connecticut, York Correctional is the only Connecticut state prison for female offenders. Building upon our curriculum for General Education Development (GED) and seminar services, the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project is establishing two separate programs for GED Enrichment and Seminar education in York Correctional.
Zealous is a national initiative that aims to move public defender advocacy outside of court. Through media communications, campaigns, technical support, and community building, Zealous aims to activate, train, and support advocacy to end mass criminalization. Zealous works with a range of local public defenders, organizers and organizations, artists, and most critically, people with direct experience (currently and formerly incarcerated) to develop powerful social justice campaigns and build a practice of collaborative advocacy.
Mourning Our Losses (https://www.mourningourlosses.org/) is a volunteer organization that centers directly-impacted people and seeks to highlight the moral cost of mass incarceration while honoring the human dignity of all who die while living or working in prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities. By rejecting the harmful practices of referring to incarcerated people as “felons” and “inmates” and forever associating them with their crimes of conviction, we resist the dehumanization of those caught within the system. We provide a space for directly-impacted people to honor those they have lost and challenge the public portrayal of incarcerated people.
Mourning Our Losses team members write, edit, and translate humanizing memorials of those who have died behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic; reach out to their loved ones both inside and outside of facilities to host their remembrances; maintain a comprehensive record of deaths behind bars; collaborate across the walls to feature writing and artwork by our currently-incarcerated volunteers; share our work in order to raise public awareness; and advocate for the release of incarcerated people across the county.
Since our launch in May 2020, we have tracked more than 2,700 COVID-related deaths and memorialized 185 people. While we plan to honor as many as possible of the thousands not yet memorialized, we also recognize that our work in this realm should extend beyond the pandemic. During the past year alone, we have tracked more than 1,700 non-COVID-related deaths, and, until the dangerous public health conditions resulting from detention no longer threaten people’s lives, Mourning Our Losses’s work will remain critical. A space centered on empowerment, solidarity, and humanity, Mourning Our Losses is a crucial part of the national movement to end mass incarceration.
Yale Undergraduate Prison Project’s Rikers Debate direct service group works alongside the Rikers Debate Project (RDP), a program that teaches inmates at Riker’s Island “competitive debate skills” for use in everyday life (http://rikersdebateproject.org/) . YUPP’s is one of multiple partners who create weekly lesson plans for the students at Riker’s to use. These lesson plans have two parts: one packet which covers a relevant debate topic, introducing the issue and providing prominent articles and questions that cover both sides, and another packet that leads the students through exercises to develop a specific debating skill.
The Yale student’s within the group select debate topics by researching and discussing current events and social policy They then select a skills topic from the list given by RDP that matches well with the week’s debate topic. Some past debate topics include unpaid internships, plea bargaining, U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, NSA surveillance in the past and during the Covid-19 pandemic, genetic modification, lowering the voting age, NCAA athlete compensation, and the movement towards nuclear energy. The skills lesson plans have covered evaluating evidence, public speaking, moral philosophies, evaluating evidence, separating fact from opinion, crystallization, arguing both sides, ARE (assertion, reasoning, evidence), and counter plans.
New Ventures & Other Programs
This year, many of the new ventures will be dedicated to finding ways for YUPP to improve its efforts in expanding our role in local actions, connecting with more groups and organizations, and making ourselves as an organization more dedicated to abolitionist efforts and understanding abolition as whole.
One of the primary new ventures is working on gaining resources and support for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, and their families, who are struggling with mental health. This venture is still in the works, but will work with CT Re-entry, on helping to provide resources and link individuals and their families with support systems and groups.
We are also working to expand the current YUPP training, and create a new YUPP-wide orientation based on understanding abolition, the prison-industrial complex, and making sure that our organization as whole we are constantly learning and educating ourselves as we engage in this work.
Potential collaborations in the future could include working with the SEICHE center and the transitions clinic, to help expand upon mental health resources. Another potential collaboration also includes working with the Connecticut chapter of the Friends and Families of Incarcerated Persons organization (potentially connecting YUPP members with this organization to volunteer or collaborate).
Other YUPP programs include the Pardon Program & the CT Bail Fund Hotline.
a space to honor those who died while living and working behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic