PhD candidate in social work & research

Barb Toews, MA ’00

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

After eight years of going “behind the walls and bars” to work with prisoners and prison staff, Barb Toews finds herself in a dramatically different environment these days: in the peaceful setting of a Quaker-founded private college with expansive lawns, towering shade trees, and buildings with picture windows.

Barb is a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr College in a suburb of Philadelphia, where she is looking at the ways that people find privacy when institutionalized and the benefits of such privacy. As she puts it, she is focused on the need for “therapeutic space away from the chaos.”

Previously she was the restorative justice program manager for the Pennsylvania Prison Society and the founding director of the victim-offender reconciliation program in her hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylania.

She says she has moved from a focus on day-to-day interventions to exploring broader philosophical issues and theories. “I found that even in prison, the guys wanted to use our time together to debate philosophical and religious issues. Before, I was focused on planning and executing programs; now I can have a two-hour conversation [with prisoners] about how restorative justice could fit into community life in north Philadelphia.”

Yet she knows her foundation in practice will make her more effective as an educator and trainer in the field. In recent years, for example, she has taught a restorative justice course through nearby Haverford College, another Quaker-founded institution, in which her students are “co-learners” with a group of prisoners taking the class. They hold the class inside a jail.

Barb says her MA in conflict transformation has been “super relevant for my PhD work.” Mentored by EMU restorative justice professor Howard Zehr – in 2004 they co-edited Critical Issues in Restorative Justice – and seasoned by being one of the few to bring restorative justice into Pennsylvania’s prisons, “I am able to bring something unique to the Bryn Mawr program.”