The Ephesus Project: Volunteers delivering post-secondary education in Correctional Service Canada institutions


The Ephesus Project is a volunteer initiative that funds, organizes, and delivers post-secondary courses to incarcerated learners within the Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) institutions. The project, named for the great library in the ancient city of Ephesus, a centre of culture and learning in the Roman Empire, seeks to bring wisdom and culture to the incarcerated.

What began as a small set of professors from a single university providing education to one inmate has slowly expanded to a group providing post-secondary education in physics, math, English, history, philosophy and theology from several Edmonton-based universities including The King’s University, MacEwan University, Athabasca University and the University of Alberta.

While CSC facilitates post-secondary learning opportunities for inmates to learn a trade, a profession or upgrade trade qualifications through correspondence with community colleges or universities, generally the inmate must cover the cost of their own post-secondary education. The Ephesus Project is a no-cost alternative for inmates. The core program takes place in person at Edmonton Institution, a maximum-security prison for men, and when inmates are transferred to medium-security, professors continue to support the students through correspondence-style courses.

The Executive Director of The Ephesus Project, Dr. Arlette Zinck, not only teaches one-on-one, in-person classes but also invites other academics into the project, trains them and works with the Volunteer Coordinator at Edmonton Institution to register them with CSC. Dr. Zinck pairs them with a learner who is interested in the courses the professor offers.

The volunteer professors who are part of The Ephesus Project collaborate with CSC’s educators to organize in-person classes and correspondence and/or telephone tutoring. They also work with the participating universities to ensure the learners receive credits for their work and they invite other volunteer groups to enrich their program with community engagement.

Dr. Zinck was a nominee in 2019 for CSC’s Taylor Award, which recognizes outstanding CSC volunteers, for her contribution to inmates and the partnership with CSC. She continues to volunteer her time and expertise. In her words:

A liberal arts post-secondary education can be a ticket to belonging. By studying the liberal arts, we are not just training for a job – although the study does make us more employable. We are learning how to think, discovering who we are and who we can be. We are learning about how civil society works, and we are imagining how we might find a place in it. I volunteer because I love working with capable, motivated learners. Our prisons, I have discovered, are full of capable, motivated learners. – Dr. Arlette Zinck, The Ephesus Project

Evidence from research in Canada shows that supporting individuals in custody to obtain an education can contribute directly to their successful reintegration. Post-secondary education can also reduce recidivism and creates better opportunities for employment upon release.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost all areas of life, including education inside CSC’s institutions, volunteers from The Ephesus Project have worked with universities to adapt programming so it can continue to be accessible for inmates, such as launching video sessions and increasing the number of courses that can be offered by correspondence.

CSC is fortunate to work with The Ephesus Project and other organizations supporting post-secondary education to inmates in our care and custody, such as Walls to Bridges, a partnership between Grand Valley Institution for Women and Wilfrid Laurier University. Learn more about it here:

The value of education goes beyond the subject matter being taught. It creates opportunities for inmates to further their personal development and continues to support the relationships that have been established, by bringing them outside the walls into the communities.

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