Walls to Bridges (W2B) is an innovative educational program that brings together incarcerated (“Inside”) and non-incarcerated (“Outside”) students to study post-secondary courses in jails and prisons across Canada. The National Hub for the program is based out of the Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work, in partnership with Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener.
Experiential learning is foundational to the W2B teaching and learning process. An important principle of all W2B courses is that students from outside the correctional system are not ‘mentoring’ or ‘helping’ or ‘working with’ incarcerated/criminalized students: all participants in the class are peers, learning the class content together through innovative, experiential and dialogical processes. Self-reflexivity is a key component of W2B classes.
By providing access to education for incarcerated peoples and through collaborative scholarly inquiry with university-based students, Walls to Bridges classes offer opportunities to understand the complexities of criminalization and punishment through lived experiences and intersectional analyses. This is a transformational educational experience which draws upon lived experience as a source of theorizing as well as challenges the artificial boundaries between people experiencing imprisonment and those who are not.
Walls to Bridges began in 2011 as a partnership between Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVIW) in Kitchener, Ontario and the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). Thanks to the support of the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation and other generous donations, the national W2B hub is located in the Faculty of Social Work at WLU.
W2B courses are university or college-based classes taught in jails, prison and community correctional settings. Students who are or have been incarcerated study together with students enrolled in university/college programs. All students who successfully complete the course receive a university/college credit. An important principle of W2B courses is that students from outside the correctional system are not ‘mentoring’ or ‘helping’ or ‘working with’ incarcerated/criminalized students: all participants in the class are peers, learning the class content together through innovative, experiential and dialogical processes.