Inaugural APSA Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement presented to Marc M. Howard for his work on the Prisons and Justice Initiative

The new APSA Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor significant civic or community engagement activity by a political scientist which merges knowledge and practice and has an impact outside of the profession or the academy. Awardees receive an honorarium as well as funds to support an event at the following year’s Annual Meeting that will further advance civic and community engagement within the discipline of political science. This award was created by the APSA Presidential Task Force On New Partnerships and associated funding is made possible by the Ivywood Foundation.

Marc M. Howard is one of the country’s leading voices and advocates for criminal justice and prison reform.  He is a Professor of Government and Law, and the founding Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, at Georgetown University.  He is also the Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, a non-profit organization that launched in 2020.

Founded by Professor Howard in 2016, the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, was created “in order to respond to the dual crisis of incarceration and recidivism.  It brings together leading scholars, practitioners, and students to tackle the problem of mass incarceration – one of the most crucial moral and political issues of our time.”  The initiative has several parts: a course for students from Georgetown and those incarcerated in the District of Columbia jail.  The Prison Scholars Program is a lecture series and credit-bearing study group provides a pathway to a bachelor’s degree at the D.C. jail.  PJI’s Georgetown Pivot Program merges compensated job training, academic courses, and internships for newly released prisoners.  Professor Howard and PJI also worked with the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Returning and Citizen Affairs and its partners to create a groundbreaking Paralegal Fellowship Program for those previously incarcerated.  

Under Howard’s leadership, the Prisons and Justice Initiative recently launched the Pivot Program for formerly incarcerated women and men to become entrepreneurs and business leaders, the Paralegal Program for formerly incarcerated jailhouse lawyers to become certified paralegals who are employed by major DC law firms, and the Prison Scholars Program, which offers both credit-bearing and non-credit courses to incarcerated students at the DC Jail. 

In addition to the honored civic and community engagement work, Howard’s scholarly research addresses the deep challenges of contemporary democracy and the tragedy of criminal justice and prisons in America.  The author of three books and dozens of academic articles, his work has received numerous awards.  His most recent book is Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism.

Howard is also a prize-winning teacher who was recently awarded the Provost’s Innovation in Teaching Award.  His “Prisons and Punishment” course has become one of the most sought-after courses at Georgetown.  Moreover, the students in his “Making an Exoneree” course – co-taught with his childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who was himself wrongfully imprisoned for almost 18 years – re-investigate likely wrongful conviction cases and create documentaries that suggest innocence.  Their project has already resulted in the exoneration of Valentino Dixon, who had served 27 years in prison, and more exonerations may be coming soon.

Howard has also written for a broader popular audience, including op-eds in major newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, along with short articles about the life lessons of sports in Tennis Magazine and Sports Illustrated.  He has hosted events with celebrities such as the rapper Meek Mill, and was featured in a recent documentary alongside Kim Kardashian West, who visited the D.C. Jail with him.

Howard received his B.A. in Ethics, Politics, and Economics from Yale University, his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and his J.D. from Georgetown University.

Congratulations to Professor Howard!  Learn more about this new award here.

Citation from the Award Committee:

We are pleased to present the inaugural Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement to Marc Howard of Georgetown University for his work on the Prisons and Justice Initiative.

While we were lucky to have many outstanding nominees representing a diverse and impactful array of civic and community engagement efforts in this first year of award selection, the committee felt that Professor Howard’s work uniquely manifested into a set of overlapping and interrelated impacts – local and national, individual and institutional – driven by a unified mission focused on addressing systemic injustices and promoting greater social equity.

The Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, which Professor Howard founded in 2016 and presently leads, was created “in order to respond to the dual crisis of incarceration and recidivism.  It brings together leading scholars, practitioners, and students to tackle the problem of mass incarceration – one of the most crucial moral and political issues of our time.”  The initiative has several prongs, including: a course taught in the District of Columbia jail that brings together students from Georgetown and those incarcerated.  It also offers a lecture series and credit-bearing study group that provides a pathway to a bachelor’s degree at the D.C. jail known as the Prison Scholars Program.  Also included is the Georgetown Pivot Program, which incorporates compensated job training, academic courses, and internships for newly released prisoners.  Professor Howard and PJI also played a key role in working with the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Returning and Citizen Affairs and its partners to create a groundbreaking Paralegal Fellowship Program that trains, certifies and employs previously incarcerated men and women for paralegal positions in local high-profile law firms.  Letters of support also showcase Howard’s personal involvement and advocacy for many of those wrongfully convicted, going on to serve as a mentor for these individuals, something to which they personally attest.  The committee also commends the strength of his related teaching and research, and highlights the fact that his impactful applied work is informed by and informs his research, including his 2017 book Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism.

Those nominating and supporting the consideration of Professor Howard’s efforts persuasively affirmed his indispensable role in these endeavors’ implementation and impact.  As one supporting letter noted, “Marc used his unique skill to bring together different sectors (academic, government, business, and non-profit) for some of the most innovative and deeply impactful programs in the country,” noting that Professor Howard has a “vision and ability to use academics to lead many disparate stakeholders to the same goal.”  Playing a pivotal role in facilitating these types of unique collaborations is a clear example of the kind of productive partnerships that the Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement seeks to recognize.

Professor Howard and his students have also researched and provided public exposure (and in many cases exoneration and release) for many wrongfully incarcerated individuals, a large share of whom are people of color.  His efforts are asserted to have contributed to the greater integration of the Georgetown campus with the D.C. community.  Additionally, his scholarship and advocacy through PJI have illuminated the larger racial injustices of incarceration and provided support for prison reform, all the while linking educational opportunity and access to these efforts.  As such, the committee found a particular strength of Professor Howard’s work to be the evidence supplied of the project’s contribution to matters of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

We applaud Professor Howard’s work on the Georgetown Prison Justice Initiative and look forward to his future work in this area.  As the awardee, in addition to a $1,000 honorarium, APSA and the Task Force on New Partnerships will also provide funds for Professor Howard to organize an activity to advance civic and community engagement within the discipline at the 2021 Annual Meeting.

APSA thanks the Ivywood Foundation for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Dr. Amy Cabrera Rasmussen (chair), California State University, Long Beach; Dr. Elizabeth Beaumont, University of California, Santa Cruz; Ethan Frey, Ford Foundation; Dr. Christopher F. Karpowitz, Brigham Young University; and Dr. Veronica Reyna, Houston Community College.

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