Massachusetts Prison Education Consortium
The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera)—with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation selected Massachusetts to receive a competitive grant to form a statewide consortium that supports a postsecondary education continuum for currently and formerly incarcerated people. The consortium will be managed by The Educational Justice Institute at MIT and will be responsible for establishing and sustaining an education pipeline with a strong foundation in the humanities that begins during incarceration and continues into the community. This consortium will also be responsible for creating academic and career advising specific to the needs of justice-involved students. In addition to a diverse range of institutions of higher education, the proposed consortium will include the: Massachusetts Department of Correction, Massachusetts Probation Service, Massachusetts Parole Board, Office of Community Corrections, The Petey Greene Program, reentry service providers, employers, members of the business community, and federal, state, and/or local policymakers. In addition to $250,000 in grant funds over three years, Vera will provide expert information and technical assistance to support the consortium’s efforts to provide and expand postsecondary educational opportunities in prison and post-release.
Vera is a justice reform change agent committed to ending mass incarceration, securing equal justice, and strengthening families and communities. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research, and creates solutions that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice, and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement it. Expanding access to high-quality, credential- and degree-focused postsecondary education in prison and post-incarceration is one of Vera’s core priorities.
As described in a recent Vera fact sheet, and described in more detail in its Making the Grade report. High quality college-in-prison programming is designed to ensure that students are better able to seek admission to college programs post-release, transfer credits, or be competitive with college graduates in the community. The quality and content of college programming should be in all material ways equivalent to that offered to students on campuses in the community. Thus, college faculty must view
the classroom in prison as an important space where students are challenged to think, question, learn, and grow, just as they would in a classroom on any college campus in the community. Special attention should be given to the development of a student-centric humanities pedagogy. High quality postsecondary education in prison results in a diverse set of benefits at the individual and societal levels:
Individual transformation: People who participate in postsecondary education in prison describe the experience as transformative. The students become positive role models in prison and they return to their communities with new perspectives and goals, and with new opportunities open to them.
Public safety: Incarcerated people who participate in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to recidivate than those who do not. Fewer crimes and less rule-breaking on post-release supervision lead to fewer crime victims and enable probation and parole agencies to concentrate their resources on their riskiest supervisees.
Facility safety: Prisons with college programs have fewer violent incidents, creating safer working conditions for staff and safer living environments for incarcerated people.
Preparing for post-release jobs and successful reentry: By 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.vi However, only 11 percent of incarcerated people in state prisons and 24 percent of those in federal prisons have completed at least some postsecondary education.
Taxpayer savings/Return on investment: Every dollar invested in prison-based education yields $4 to $5 of taxpayer savings in reduced incarceration costs.
Stronger families and communities: When parents — including those who are incarcerated — complete college, their children are more likely to do so, thereby disrupting the typical cycle of poverty and incarceration.