National Project Aims to Expand College Programs in Prison

NEW YORK – College education programs in prison cost-effectively reduce by half the likelihood that people who have been incarcerated will return to prison and increase their odds of obtaining and keeping employment after being released. The Vera Institute of Justice today launched a publically accessible online resource center to build on the success of these programs.   

As part of the Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education Project, the resource center assists state departments of corrections and state and local policymakers interested in implementing and expanding quality higher education programs in prison and post-release, including the development of policies and practices to increase the participation of incarcerated individuals in these programs. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.   

Corrections departments, policymakers, and postsecondary institutions can use the resource center to connect with Vera staff and request assistance in developing programs tailored to their specific needs. This includes help with identifying barriers, opportunities, and best practices related to college program planning and implementation in prisons; facilitation of higher education, corrections, and community partnerships; and referrals to experts in the field.   

This project, which runs through September 2016, leverages and builds on Vera’s Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, which combines in-prison and post-release degree-focused college classes and a continuum of reentry services to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina.  

“If our corrections system is to truly be rehabilitative, then we must do more to offer incarcerated men and women the chance to build better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “The Pathways from Prison Project has shown us that incarceration does not lock away the desire to learn and improve oneself, and I am confident that this national project will help countless others unlock their own potential.”   

The resource center will also include:

  • four Vera policy briefs on a range of issues related to postsecondary education programs in prison, such as case studies featuring successful programs and implementation guides;
  • presentations and trainings—both web-based and in-person at national corrections conferences—on best practices about college in correctional settings and during reentry; and
  • four webinars on various aspects of postsecondary education, corrections, and reentry, featuring experts in the field.

The launch of the resource center was announced today at Pathways’ national leadership group meeting in Asheville, North Carolina. The meeting brings together corrections officials, educators, and other stakeholders for a two-day convening featuring workshops, prison classroom site visits, conversations with formerly incarcerated  Pathways students, and remarks from David Guice, commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice; Dr. Doug Wood, program officer and acting director, Global Higher Education for Social Justice Initiative, Ford Foundation; Lois Davis, senior policy researcher and professor, Rand Corporation; and others.   

“Postsecondary education programs give incarcerated people the education, confidence, and skills they need in order to return to their community ready to contribute, not recidivate,” Commissioner Guice said. “I have seen firsthand the positive impact that the Pathways from Prison Project has on students and the prison environment and I strongly encourage other jurisdictions to provide their own incarcerated populations with the opportunity to learn and grow.”