Providing postsecondary education opportunities to incarcerated people is important for several reasons:

  • It helps to end mass incarceration by reducing recidivism and providing people the resources for post-release success;
  • It strengthens families and communities by helping formerly incarcerated people become economically stable and remain with their families rather than returning to prison; and
  • It saves taxpayer money by yielding a $5 return on investment for every dollar spent over three years, due to reduced recidivism and increased employment and stability for formerly incarcerated people and their families.

Current studies show that about 37 percent of federal and state prisoners do not have a high school diploma or GED, compared to 19 percent of the general population. As employers’ demands for credentials beyond a high school education grow—an estimated 70 percent of jobs will require them by 2027—it is increasingly imperative to offer college education to our most vulnerable populations.

Vera is currently working on several postsecondary education in prison projects:

  • The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative of the U.S. Department of Education allows incarcerated students in 130 schools in 42 states to use federal Pell Grants. Vera provides expert information and technical assistance to state departments of corrections, colleges and universities, and state and local policymakers selected since the initiative began in 2015. Vera’s team facilitates partnerships between colleges and prisons to provide educational opportunities for currently and formerly incarcerated people.
  • The District Attorney of New York (DANY) has invested $7.7 million into a five-year initiative aiming to increase enrollment in college-in-prison programming in New York state facilities. As part of that investment, DANY has engaged Vera to conduct an outcome evaluation of college-in-prison participation. Vera will collect data on all students enrolled in college-in-prison programs from 2017 to 2022 to understand trends in post-release employment, enrollment in postsecondary education in the community, and recidivism. Using quasi-experimental methods, Vera will compare students enrolled in these programs against a comparison group of similar peers. The study will contribute to the growing body of empirical work examining the benefits of college programming for those who are incarcerated.

Vera draws on its experience with prior projects in this field:

  • Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education was a five-year, Vera-led initiative that provided selected states (Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina) with incentive funding and technical assistance to expand postsecondary education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. The project was unique for its emphasis on coordination between pre- and post-release programming, encouraging partnerships among officials, corrections and parole agencies, schools, employers, and service providers. The demonstration that postsecondary education—combined with supportive reentry services—can reduce recidivism and increase employability and earnings encourages national replication of these models and long-term public investment. An external evaluation of the initiative is underway.
  • From Corrections to College in California: California is a national leader in providing higher education to justice-involved people. A key driver of this movement has been the Renewing Communities initiative, a joint project of the Opportunity Institute and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center that sought to expand access to higher education among justice-involved people in California, both during and after incarceration. In 2016, the initiative announced a three-year partnership with seven pilot projects that provide postsecondary education and student support services in 14 public colleges and universities, housed in prisons, jails, and colleges across the state. Vera conducted an evaluation of the Renewing Communities initiative between 2016 and 2019.
"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. 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.”
David Guice
(Retired) Commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice