Who we are and what we do: The New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP) is an association of higher education institutions in New Jersey that works in partnership with the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections and New Jersey State Parole Board, to (a) provide higher education courses for all students under the custody of the State of New Jersey while they are incarcerated, and (b) assist in the transition to college life upon their release into the community.
Our vision is that every person in prison who qualifies for college will have the opportunity to earn college credits toward a degree while incarcerated and will obtain support in continuing their education upon release.
Though our ranks will grow, the current member institutions are: Cumberland Community College; Drew University; Essex County College; Mercer County Community College; Princeton University; Raritan Valley Community College; Rutgers University; Salem Community College; and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
How we work: The consortium is housed at Rutgers University- Newark. Each consortium member is partnered with one or more of the correctional facilities in New Jersey. Every consortium member is responsible for selecting teachers and offering college credit courses in the partner facility. The central staff of the consortium coordinates the schedule of courses to be offered at each facility so that course offerings match what students need in order to continue their matriculation in the college degree programs. STEP Academic counselors assigned to each facility maintain progress records for all students of the consortium to identify the courses needed at each facility. Students receive regular advisement about what courses to take in order to maintain progress toward an AA degree in liberal studies as well as a BA degree.
NJ-Transfer guides our Liberal Arts curriculum and allows all course credit to easily transfer between two year colleges while incarcerated and once released. Upon completion of the AA degree inside or out, the Lampitt Law facilitates the entire AA degree to transfer to four year state schools. Our STEP Admissions Officer helps students plan for release from prison, including completing FASFA applications, and obtain acceptance into colleges contiguous with their release. Wrap-around admissions/transition services and support to continue college degree work are provided through the Mountainview Progam at RU- New Brunswick and the Next Step Program at Essex County College. Both academic admission/transition programs serve as models which will be replicated on other four year and community college campuses. Our graduates of the RU Mountainview Program are employed through STEP as transitions counselors to meet with students in the community and on campus in order to improve success rates of formerly incarcerated students as they transition back home.
In Fall of 2014, we will be offering courses in seven facilities in New Jersey, with plans to expand into the final three facilities by 2016. By the end of the four-year funding cycle, we will be offering courses in all of the state’s eligible correctional facilities, creating a continuum of higher educational services from prison into the community.
How we are funded: NJ-STEP was selected for the national Pathways Project managed by the Vera Institute of Justice and funded by a conglomerate of funders including Ford, Gates, Kaiser, Soros, and the Sunshine Lady Foundation. Pathways is a 3-state initaitve focused on creating, sustaining, and evaluating a model of inside/outside college education. Ford and SLF have committed $4 million over the next four years to support our work. Every aspect of NJ-STEP will be subject to Pathway’s evaluation through RAND Corp, a national research organization.
Why we are doing this work: A host of studies of higher education in prison demonstrate that this the most effective way to reduce the recidivism rates of people who are sentenced to prison. While we are dedicated reformers who share a vision for broadening educational opportunities, we also know that by expanding the opportunities for college in prison, we reduce the rate of correctional failure, increase public safety, and in the long run reduce the immediate and collateral costs of prison.