The Prison Education Project is pleased to announce that the computer lab at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center is now up and running!
“MECC students now have an opportunity to leverage technology in this less conventional learning environment to further promote the success of PEP’s mission.”
For the first time, during the 2018-2019 academic year, PEP students have the opportunity to type their essays and research papers, reference selected digital course materials, and access digital media. Taking further advantage of the newly installed Washington University computer lab inside the prison, PEP hopes to offer introductory computer science courses in 2019 and 2020.
The lab is the product of intense collaboration between PEP, Wash U Arts & Sciences Computing, and Department of Corrections officials at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) beginning in spring 2017. Due to this project’s many extraordinary environmental challenges, both for basic functionality and the high security demands, it took many months to get the lab up and running. Upon securing funding in June 2018, through a combination of support from the Provost’s Office and external grants, then PEP Program Manager Jennifer Hudson facilitated coordination between the university and the prison for the design and delivery of an on-site computer lab to permanently reside at MECC. PEP would especially like to recognize Arts & Sciences Computing Associate Director of Systems and Network Dale Abernathie and Assistant Director of Client Support Lucas Heberlie for their extraordinary work on this project.
The largest security challenge was the absence of internet connectivity of any kind. The equipment could never extend beyond its own well-defined network, which was quite a challenge in this era of constant communication. This requirement meant that A&S Computing needed to create a standalone network with a switch, server, laptop clients, and a printer. All settings needed to be locked down to prevent any unauthorized changes. When not in use, all equipment is physically secured in locked cabinets, which also allows for battery charging.
The room initially lacked the electrical needs to support the desired equipment and contained no network equipment. Spools of cabling were purchased and installed to provide the necessary wiring infrastructure. All equipment needed to be custom ordered and built with specific instructions.
Now that the lab is in use, the challenge is maximizing access and ensuring that all students obtain appropriate training and technical support. PEP faculty and graduate student tutors travel to the prison on a daily basis each week to keep the lab open.
The result of all of this cross-university cooperation is a necessary learning tool, critical to the fulfillment of PEP’s promise to administer a serious academic program that just so happens to take place in prison.