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Dr. Breea Willingham


Associate Professor of Criminal Justice

Dr. Breea Willingham joined the criminal justice department in the fall of 2014. Prior to beginning her academic career in 2005, Dr. Willingham worked as a newspaper reporter for 10 years covering crime, murder trials, and school board meetings in the Carolinas and Upstate New York. She also taught journalism at St. Bonaventure University and sociology and criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Dr. Willingham earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

As an interdisciplinary scholar, Dr. Willingham’s research examines the intersections of race, gender, higher education and the injustice system. She is particularly interested in examining Black women’s pathways to incarceration, their experiences with higher education in prison and providing a platform for Black women impacted by the injustice system to tell their stories. In the spring of 2020, Dr. Willingham co-founded the Jamii Sisterhood, an organization that offers a safe and innovative space for Black women in higher education in prison, and provides professional development in equity, cultural competency and race relations to education professionals.

Influenced by her experiences as a sister and aunt of two men serving life sentences, Dr. Willingham’s research also focuses on the societal ramifications of mass incarceration, especially its impact on families. Her research goes beyond a critique of the institution of prison to include the narratives of the people marginalized by mass incarceration.

Dr. Willingham has presented her research at academic conferences nationally and internationally, given lectures at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom and led writing and reentry workshops in women’s and men’s prisons. Her work on incarcerated fathers and their children, Black women’s prison narratives, teaching in women’s prisons, and Black women and police violence has been published in academic journals and edited collections.

In the summer of 2020, Dr. Willingham was appointed Managing Editor of the new Journal for Higher Education in Prison, a peer-reviewed journal that publishes solely on the topics and issues in higher education in prison.

In the Fall 2018 semester, Dr. Willingham’s teaching and research intersected in a unique way when she partnered with States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories, a collaboration of over 800 students and others deeply affected by incarceration in 18 states. For her part in this national collaboration, Dr. Willingham — the only faculty member in the SUNY system to partner with States of Incarceration — created and taught a special topics course on higher education in prison. She guided her students through original research, including interviews with more than a dozen higher education in prison providers across NYS, to answer the students’ research question, “How can higher education redefine mass incarceration in the New York’s North Country?”

The students titled their project “Cuffs to Classroom” and used their findings to create a museum panel that is now a permanent part of the “States of Incarceration” national traveling exhibition. The exhibit was housed in the Burke Gallery at the Plattsburgh Art Museum in the Spring 2020 semester. View the project created by Dr. Willingham and her students.

Dr. Willingham also served as the project coordinator on a Mellon Grant-funded partnership between SUNY and CUNY systems that explored ways to increase higher education opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in NYS.

Dr. Willingham is currently writing a book about higher education in women’s prisons. Her anthology titled Punishment and Society — based on her course of the same name — is available from Cognella Academic Publishers.

  • Education
    • Ph.D., in American Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo, 2014
    • M.A., in Business Management, Webster University, 2000
    • B.A. in Communications, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, 1994
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