Inmates in jail constitute one of the most underserved populations in our country. They also often have the time, and the desire, for serious and deep reflection on their values, society’s values, and the world around them. Philosophy provides students with a deep set of cognitive resources to grapple with their incarceration, their humanity, and their roles and responsibilities in society.

Teaching philosophy in jails and prisons has picked up steam recently as many acknowledge the importance of higher education for prison programming.

Learn more about higher education in prison


The Epictetus Club describes how a group of inmates in the 1970s used ancient Greek philosophy to lead rewarding, fulfilling lives.

San Quentin Prison Ethics Bowl

Starting in the fall of 2017, and in collaboration with the Prison University Project, the CPP began an Ethics Bowl program for inmates at San Quentin state prison. We offered the Ethics Bowl as an extra-curricular debate program to all PUP students, and had our first internal debate among two teams of San Quentin inmates in December, 2017. Our first public event happened on February 13, 2018, when the collegiate Ethics Bowl team from UC Santa Cruz participated in a round against a San Quentin inmate team.

On Feb. 15, 2019 we held our second annual Ethics Bowl inside San Quentin state prison! You can read more about it in this article from the San Quentin News.

Pictures of our 2019 Bowl:

PUP team Roosevelt “Askare” Johnson, Angel Alvarez and Randy Akins

The San Quentin Team discussing one of the cases while competing.

The UC Santa Cruz Ethics Bowl Team, CPP Assistant Director Kyle Robertson, and Philosophy Ph.D. Candidate David Donley after the round.

Pictures of the Feb. 2018 Bowl:

  See more coverage of this event from the San Quentin News!

Santa Cruz Main Jail

CPP has teamed up with the Santa Cruz Main Jail to provide ongoing 12-week courses on ethics and critical thinking to inmates. Using real-life ethical cases as a point of departure, inmates strengthen their capacities for rational deliberation, productive discussion with people who disagree, analyze their own relationship to ethical and moral norms, and reflect on the society they wish to reintegrate with upon release.

David Donley (top, middle) with students at Santa Cruz County Jail, graduation day, October 2016.

A huge thanks to Cynthia Chase, David Donley, and James Sutter for the outstanding support they have given to this program.

Blaine St. Women’s Jail

The CPP is excited to offer a philosophy program at the Blaine Street women’s jail in Santa Cruz county, piloted by our own recent graduate student, Lisa Martinez! For more information on this program, and what moves Lisa to work with the CPP, check out this in-depth interview about her work.



Lisa Guenther

Professor Guenther is one of the leading national figures bringing philosophy and the humanities inside of prisons and jails. Her work is an inspiration for our own program at the Santa Cruz Main Jail. Read about her work with death row inmates, her reflections on phenomenology and solitary confinement, and her recent opinion piece in the New York Times.