The Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development (RAISED) partners with NJ-STEP to foster urban entrepreneurship among the justice impacted population.
See more about the project here.
October 24, 2022
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on NJ-STEP and the Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development (RAISED)
The Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development (RAISED) partners with NJ-STEP to foster urban entrepreneurship among the justice impacted population.
See more about the project here.
January 10, 2022
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on Drew Theological School Committed to Restorative Justice and Reentry Efforts Through Education
Drew PREP, which has been offering classes in two New Jersey prisons for more than a decade, brings the Drew classroom into the prison setting with the goal of equally educating both incarcerated (“inside”) and Theological School (“outside”) students through the sharing of diverse experiences, identities, and belief systems. More than half of the Theological School faculty and more than 100 inside and outside students have studied together in Edna Mahan and Northern State correctional facilities in New Jersey.
The program, which had been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is relaunching in the spring 2022 semester with a new initiative to offer the first graduate level certificate program in the state of New Jersey. The certificate will be piloted at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey.
Drew’s PREP certificate in religious leadership and social transformation is available to inside students, and a certificate in restorative justice and prison ministries is available to Drew Theological School master’s degree students. The program builds a theological, analytical, and practical foundation for developing religious leadership skills for social transformation.
Read the full article here
December 16, 2021
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on Drew University Extends the NJ-STEP Pipeline with Spring 2022 Launch of Master’s Level Pilot Program
Excerpted from https://www.state.nj.us/corrections, 12/8/21 press release
Drew University will be joining the consortium of degree-granting higher education institutions, which includes Rutgers University and Raritan Valley Community College, as part of the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) initiative to provide educational services to the New Jersey incarcerated population. East Jersey State Prison in Rahway is the first institution to offer post-graduate credits.
“At East Jersey we have the highest number of people who have graduated from NJ-STEP, completing their associate’s and their bachelor’s degree,” said Dr. Darcella Sessomes, NJDOC Assistant Commissioner, Division of Programs and Community Services. “We are excited to launch this program at East Jersey State Prison for those individuals who wish to take the next step in their continuing educational journey.”
Officials from Drew and other colleges toured East Jersey State Prison to assess educational spaces and determine the interest in and viability of the program. “Our pilot graduate certificate program is in religious leadership and social transformation, and is open to people of all faiths or no faith tradition,” said Rev. Dr. Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre Interim Dean of Drew Theological School. “The interdisciplinary program has its roots in
theological studies and develops leadership for the common good.”
Students in the program gain experience in graduate studies earning them 15 credits and a head start to pursue a master’s degree in their field of interest.
The pilot program is scheduled to offer its first class to coincide with the 2022 spring semester.
Full NJDOC press release here.
September 8, 2021
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on ‘Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act’ Would Remove Barriers To Higher Education For Americans With Criminal Justice System Involvement
Advocates say now is the time for colleges and universities to move “beyond the box” and stop asking criminal history questions on admissions applications. A Senate bill would help make that happen…
September 2, 2021
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on Residents of Middlesex Juvenile Detention Center receive education from Middlesex College
Excerpted from centraljersey.com
Middlesex College students and Middlesex Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) residents are being uplifted by an expansion of R.I.S.E – Reaching Individual Success through Education – a program serving an underserved population in the detention center.
Thanks to recent grant funding from the Middlesex College Foundation and the New Jersey Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, Middlesex College has been able to expand to even greater heights its R.I.S.E. program for JDC residents.
The program has grown from Middlesex College offering college programming to Middlesex JDC residents to having Middlesex JDC residents actually earn college credits as Middlesex College students.
Read full article here
March 14, 2021
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on New Education Secretary Should Prioritize Implementation of Pell Grants for People in Prison
Newly confirmed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona made some appealing promises during his confirmation hearing: Namely, that he would prioritize closing equity gaps and making education more attainable for all students. One of the most immediate ways he can accomplish this goal is by making sure that Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students is implemented as promptly as possible before the 2023 deadline. Students who are eager to make a better life for themselves and their families are relying on him to help put the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated people in the past. Congress did its part by formally lifting the ban in late December, and it’s now up to Cardona and his staff to focus on implementation.
It’s important to understand how exactly the reversal of this 26-year-old ban will change lives. The Vera Institute of Justice, along with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, found in a 2019 report that lifting the ban will increase employment among formerly incarcerated people by 10 percent, on average. Researchers also found that reduced recidivism rates will save states a combined $365.8 million a year as a result of fewer people returning to prison. At a time when many state and municipal budgets are squeezed due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disastrous effect on the economy, these cost savings will be extremely critical.
It is those who have been directly impacted by the Pell ban and who courageously stepped forward to share their personal stories with others who deserve to be celebrated as the real champions of this policy win. People like Boris Franklin, who spent 11 years incarcerated in the New Jersey prison system. Boris was fortunate to have access to the state-funded NJ-STEP program, which allowed him to pursue his degree in sociology from Rutgers University while behind bars and eventually obtain a job where he continues to push for criminal justice reform at the local, state and federal levels.
By: Nick Turner is president and director of the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice in New York, which was created in 1961 to collaborate with government, civic leaders and communities impacted by the criminal legal and immigration systems to implement change. Follow him on Twitter @NickTurner718.
March 5, 2021
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on As Pell Grants Open Up for Incarcerated Students, Programs Ready for Growth
The sweeping 1994 crime bill banned incarcerated people from obtaining Pell Grants. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell program, which former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expanded last spring.
Students earned more than 4,500 degrees and certificates through the program as of 2019, said Margaret diZerega, the director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. The 2020 expansion more than doubled the number of participating colleges to 130 schools across 42 states and the District of Columbia. The latest legislation significantly expands its scope. The Vera Institute has estimated that nearly half a million incarcerated people would be eligible for Pell Grants if the ban was lifted.
While that’s only about a fifth of the U.S. incarcerated population, advocates hope the change will give Second Chance Pell staying power.
The legislative expansion was a relief to Chris Agans, a Rutgers University employee who oversees the administration of New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP), an association of New Jersey higher education institutions that help incarcerated people access college classes.
Through NJ-STEP, students earn degrees from Rutgers or Raritan Valley Community College, which are among the department’s experimental sites for Second Chance Pell. Other universities contribute courses or faculty. NJ-STEP was founded in 2012 and initially used private and university funding to help people in prison afford and access education. Since then, Agans said, more than 250 students have earned associate degrees and 48 have earned bachelor’s while incarcerated. More than 100 earned a bachelor’s after their release and 16 went on to earn a master’s degree.
“The permanency of Second Chance Pell is a tremendous boon to existing programs who have been living in this year-to-year attempt at creating budgets,” he said, noting that it can allow for investments in infrastructure that could make these programs feel more connected to their schools.
Even with more federal support, there are significant hurdles to increasing college access among incarcerated students. Some of these were pointed out in a 2019 Congressional report evaluating a potential expansion, which also bemoaned the “little research on the best way to deliver postsecondary education in prisons.”
For one, only about two-thirds of incarcerated people have a high school diploma or its equivalent, the Vera Institute notes, a prerequisite for college classes. Even then, correctional systems and facilities may have additional rules. In New Jersey, for instance, students in solitary confinement can’t participate, Agans said.
Other factors that could disqualify potential students include having previously defaulted on student loans and being unable to gather the necessary documentation to apply for financial aid.
The correctional facilities themselves are often a barrier. “Pretty much every room in the prison is the wrong space,” Agans said. “They’re built for security.”
Modern colleges assume students can be self-directed — logging into their school emails, connecting with advisers, and mastering the library and assignment submissions systems. In prison, Agans said, students often can only use notepads, and getting their work into the school’s computer system can take hours and introduce human error.
Agans said running these programs can get expensive, and he keeps his budget in line by keeping costs down and recycling materials. Some programs, he said, have figured out how to make money by compromising quality, using distance learning or relying on volunteers. But, he added, “it seems the overwhelming majority of directors I talk to are in the hole.”
By Joy Resmovits
November 30, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on It’s Time to Finally Give Incarcerated People Access to Pell Grants
As the presidents of Claflin University and Langston University, two distinguished historically Black universities in America, we have seen firsthand how education provides a gateway to empowerment. As HBCUs, our schools share the core value of providing an education that fosters mutual respect, diversity and inclusion. But we can and should be doing more to include incarcerated students into that vision. To do that, Congress must lift the ban on federal Pell grants for people in prison.
Earlier this year, Claflin University was selected to participate in the U.S. Education Department’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, joining Langton University and 128 other colleges and universities that offer educational opportunities for incarcerated students. The program, which allows these students to apply for crucial federal financial aid for these schools, has proved that corrections facilities and colleges can sustain large postsecondary education programs together if given the chance. But even as our universities commit to Second Chance Pell, we are calling on lawmakers to permanently lift the federal ban on Pell grants for all incarcerated people.
The mission and vision of HBCUs provide a unique educational space for all students — no matter if they take classes on campus, online or from inside prison facilities. If the Pell ban is lifted, more HBCUs would have a path forward to teach in prisons. Consider that even though Black men and women make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise more than a third of people in the criminal justice system. The Pell ban denies this disproportionately Black population the ability to secure the income, safety and opportunities necessary to transform their lives and their families’ futures. We in the HBCU community cannot stand by and allow this inequity to persist.
Earning a quality education plays a critical role in the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated people into their communities. Nationwide, more than 95 percent of people in prison will eventually be released, but more than a third will return to prison within three years. However, incarcerated people with access to education and skills training are about 48 percent less likely to return to prison than those without. When we empower incarcerated people to start down a meaningful career path upon returning to the community, the cycle of poverty and involvement in the criminal justice system is positively disrupted.
Education produces better outcomes for all: incarcerated people, their families and loved ones, the prisons in which they reside, and the communities to which they return. Incarcerated parents who enroll in college programs share their knowledge, skills and connections — their social capital — with their children and families, multiplying the impact of a single college degree. This is particularly important for people of color who have been largely excluded from wealth-building policies in the past. The result is a nation in which White Americans have 20 times the net worth of Black Americans, 35 percent of whom have negative or zero net worth.
Opinion by Dwaun J. Warmack and Kent J. Smith Jr.
Dwaun J. Warmack is president of Claflin University and a 2019 Eisenhower fellow. Kent J. Smith Jr. is president of Langston University and former chair of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Council of 1890 Universities.
November 18, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on NJ-STEP Partner, Raritan Valley Community College’s RISE Program Highlighted in Community College Daily
Providing postsecondary education to incarcerated individuals can ensure former inmates will have an opportunity to a successful life when they are released. But setting up an education system inside prison walls – where there are major security considerations – calls for a whole new set of policies and procedures, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Because postsecondary education in prison combines two very different worlds, bureaucracies and sets of policies and practices, colleges and corrections agencies new to this field will find that melding these two systems takes time, patience, creativity and tenacity,” says a new report by the Vera Institute that offers step-by-step guidance for starting a postsecondary education program for prisoners.
“Any college should be aware it does take an effort” to launch a prison education program, says Sheila Meiman, director of Returning and Incarcerated Student Education (RISE) at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) in New Jersey. RVCC had to add staff to handle the increased administrative requirements to participate in the federal Second Chance Pell program.
The college educates about 500 inmates a semester at seven state prisons. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, participation has dropped by about half, as some inmates aren’t comfortable with distance learning or are in quarantine.
September 28, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Why Liberal Arts Education for Currently Incarcerated People is a Sound Investment
We should look to the humanities to help prisoners prepare for the business of living.
What reaction does the term “prison education” evoke?
For many, the immediate thought is vocational training with the goal of teaching inmates practical skills that theoretically provide connections to work in the “real world” after release.
This fits perfectly with the American mindset about education and work generally: the only truly valuable education is one that connects the student directly to employment. Everything else is a luxury at best, or a waste of time and money at worst.
But for all the supposed realism and pragmatism of this view, for many behind bars, it may be the least practical and effective approach from the standpoint of supporting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.
Comparatively few people have the actual gifts and interests necessary for success in skilled trades. Moreover, it is arguable that technical education doesn’t actually address the functional illiteracy (a lack of basic reading, writing and other communication skills) and socialization challenges including impaired “theory of mind” (the ability to empathize with other people in a positive and meaningful way) that help pave the way to crime and imprisonment.
The singular focus on technical education also fails to acknowledge that life in prison often reinforces and exacerbates early-life traumas and behavioral deficits that help create the cycle of anti-social behavior, criminal activity and incarceration.
Albert Einstein noted that “the value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” All people can benefit from training their minds to think broadly and deeply about the world and their place in it, perhaps especially those who have committed crimes and been incarcerated.
While people must pay penalties for criminal activity, including spending time prison when necessary, we can also find ways of using education to redeem both the time and the person behind bars.
Brent Orrell is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
September 1, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on We Already Have a Tool That Lowers Crime, Saves Money and Shrinks the Prison Population
Dyjuan Tatro grew up in a poor neighborhood in Albany, N.Y., where gunshots were common and education inaccessible. Around 10th grade, Dyjuan dropped out and was selling drugs. A few years later, when he was 20, he was involved in a shooting and sentenced to prison for assault.
Thankfully, that was just the first chapter of Dyjuan’s story. While incarcerated, Dyjuan was able to access the education he had missed as a teenager. He was accepted to the Bard Prison Initiative’s postsecondary education program, where he joined BPI’s debate team — which drew national attention after defeating Harvard University. By the time Dyjuan got out of prison, he had finished a mathematics major and earned a bachelor’s degree from Bard College. Today, he works as a government affairs and advancement officer for BPI.
In America, individuals released from prison often return to crime. One study published in 2018, which analyzed data from 23 states, found that 37 percent of those released in 2012 returned to prison within three years. Of those released in 2010, 46 percent returned to prison within five years.
But the recidivism rate is far lower for prisoners who are able to get some postsecondary education while in prison. Fewer than 3 percent of graduates of BPI, which is based in New York, return to prison. In contrast, well over 30 percent of individuals released from the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision return to custody within just three years. Other colleges with similar postsecondary education programs for prisoners also boast lower recidivism statistics than their state averages.
Providing education to the incarcerated is a win-win — it reduces future crime rates and saves public funds that otherwise would be spent keeping people in jail or prison.
Unfortunately, however, Dyjuan’s ability to access a postsecondary education while incarcerated is far from typical. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act rendered anyone behind bars ineligible to receive federal Pell Grants. These grants, which give impoverished students financial aid for postsecondary education, had long been a critical funding mechanism for in-prison college programs. The Pell Grant ban put a virtual end to postsecondary education for prisoners who weren’t able to take advantage of privately funded programs like Bard’s or who didn’t have greater familial financial support.
By EMILY MOONEY
August 10, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Mountainview Alum Renaldo Chavis: Using Education to Transform and Empower
Renaldo Chavis embodies the transformative power of education at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) and how it can help reshape one’s future. The Newark native’s early roots began at Irvington High School in New Jersey. There, he was removed and placed at an alternative high school in East Orange before being incarcerated for almost 20 years.
“I was never into education. I dropped out of school and got my GED in prison,” Chavis said. “When I was first reintroduced to education in 2013, I was much older and developed as a young man. The more I began to embrace it, the more I appreciated education. Sociology, psychology, and political science were among my initial interests.”
Chavis was able to receive an education while incarcerated through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJSTEP) initiative. The program based at RU-N consists of higher education institutions in New Jersey which provide higher education courses toward a college degree for students while they are incarcerated and assist in their transition to college life upon release from prison through the guidance of the Mountainview Communities.
“Go to class, conduct yourself the way you are supposed to, and the universe starts to work in your favor. For me, it worked out so much so that I was able to get an opportunity. [NJSTEP] worked!” Chavis exclaimed.
The Newark Public Safety Coalition (NPSC) offered Chavis his first job after being incarcerated as a research assistant. Before Chavis received this opportunity, his past work experiences included being a licensed cosmetologist and working at a neighborhood barbershop with his brothers, while doing other entrepreneurial work on the side.
Chavis explained, “I was able to get a good job going to school doing what I’m supposed to do, such as consistently staying on the dean’s list, meaningful networking, and accepting the process. The professors recognize between the people who are just there and the people who are making the concerted effort to learn and participate in their respective disciplines. I wanted to do more than just pass. I was there to learn.”
Chavis received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark (SASN.) His future goals include continuing with his current job and starting his own business in the international trade field. Despite the obstacles that Chavis encountered in his early life, he says the motivation, resilience, and network that he gained during his time at Rutgers-Newark through NJSTEP, will guide him throughout the rest of his life.
“I don’t sweat what I don’t have. I appreciate the things I do have. I saw the process with several others in my cohort, most of whom had life in prison, and I was one of those who made it out. I am not just representing myself. I’m representing them and the NJ STEP program. I’m doing it for more than just me,” Chavis said.
By CHRISTOPHER ROJAS
The NJ-STEP community mourns the loss of philanthropist Doris Buffett. As an early supporter of college in prison in New Jersey, Doris’s vision and her foundation’s contributions made our current work possible. Her positive impact on our families and communities will continue well into the future.
With limited technology in their facilities, most college-in-prison programs moved to paper correspondence amid the pandemic. Others were suspended altogether.
The benefits of college programs in prisons are well documented. Research shows that postsecondary programs can reduce recidivism while improving morale and safety in facilities and increasing post-incarceration job prospects. Support for prison education has grown in recent years, as has support for allowing inmates to access federal financial aid, which was banned in 1994.
Prisons have been, along with nursing homes and meatpacking plants, hit incredibly hard by COVID-19. Limited space and disinfectant made the disease spread widely in facilities with insufficient health care and a high prevalence of underlying conditions. There have been nearly 44,000 cases among inmates in state and federal prisons, likely an undercount since testing has been limited inside facilities. Though local jails have been releasing some detainees to reduce overcrowding and mitigate the spread of disease, prisons have released far fewer people.
The college programs housed in prisons have now, for the most part, gone one of three paths. Some have switched to a paper correspondence model, while others have tried to leverage any existing technology in their facility. Many have suspended their programs altogether.
“The departments of corrections that had gotten farther into offering technology, offering controlled internet, and had gotten some level of comfort with that over the years, those are the places that adapted most quickly to this situation,” said Delaney, a program manager at the Vera Institute for Justice, which assists colleges and corrections agencies with expanding postsecondary education.
Research has shown that black and Hispanic students have unequal access to quality education, at schools with few resources and little funding. Black and Hispanic students are less likely than their white peers to enroll in a four-year college or to graduate once enrolled. Black and Hispanic graduates are more likely to have attended institutions with less money or resources.
With COVID-19 now spiking in several states and outbreaks ongoing in prisons, the future of higher education in prison is still filled with uncertainty.
By Lilah Burke
When coronavirus kept college professors from teaching in person at Maine Correctional Facility, officials reconfigured a prison classroom to hold classes over Zoom using the Internet from an administrator’s computer. Officials at Saginaw Correctional Facility in Michigan waived a ban on communication between volunteers and prisoners so that Delta College professors could instruct their students over email. At Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York, college classes are postponed and graduation is cancelled.
Coronavirus has upended the semester for college students across the country—and thousands of incarcerated students are no exception. On the outside, professors are conducting classes over video conferencing and graduations will be live-streamed online. But in prison, where the majority of incarcerated people are cut off from the Internet, the options for distance learning are limited, leaving college administrators scrambling to figure out how to finish the semester from beyond the prison walls. Many have found workarounds now that they can no longer enter the prisons. But they fear the coronavirus could undermine a critical component of college in prison: teaching in person.
Research shows that higher education in prison reduces recidivism and saves taxpayer money. In interviews with The Marshall Project college-in-prison administrators noted less often-cited benefits: College programs in prison build community, boost morale and provide incarcerated students with an antidote to the despair and monotony of prison life.
For Pablo Negron, who is enrolled at Prison-to-College Pipeline at Otisville Correctional Facility, college classes keep him “busy and away from prison politics and negativity.” Taking classes has given him a “sense of accomplishment,” which makes him feel like his time behind bars wasn’t simply wasted. As he looks forward to life after prison, he says he is optimistic he’ll have more career choices with a college education.
How well college programs are able to adapt during the pandemic largely depends on their relationship with the corrections department for their state, and what resources they’re able to provide. Many prisons are operating with a reduced workforce, and can’t spare the staff to keep the college programs running. But there’s an understanding among prison officials of the value of education programs, especially during a crisis, says Ruth Delaney, who provides assistance to college sites for the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Tensions are high,” Delaney said. “Being able to give people something familiar, and engaging can really help to make sure all the resources are focused on fighting coronavirus.”
By Nicole Lewis
Nicole Lewis is a staff writer reporting on voting rights, technology and the privatization of services in prisons and jails. She previously wrote for The Fact Checker at The Washington Post. In 2016, she won an Education Writers Association award as part of a series on school desegregation in Mississippi.
April 15, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on RU-N Chancellor Highlights Prison Ed in Call for Equality Based Pandemic Response
Higher education — like every sector of our economy — is hurting badly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the current crisis has served to throw into sharp relief structural inequities that we have allowed to exist for too long in our state and our nation despite the best of our knowledge. Racial inequity, in particular, has been hurting us badly for generations, and at universities like ours we see students as they walk the uneven path toward social mobility.
So these are hardly revelations, especially to us in New Jersey, where we have seen COVID-19’s disparate impacts progress up close as a hot spot of the pandemic and a landscape defined not only by our closeness to the epicenter in New York City, but by the density of our own demographic diversity divided vastly unevenly across urban-suburban-rural geographies. Initially, there was some recognition that when schools closed, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, disproportionately represented in black, brown, undocumented and/or low-income districts, might lose their breakfast and lunch and that separating students with disabilities and those more generally behind the digital divide might substantially impact learning and academic progress. In New Jersey’s densely populated urban hot spots, concerns then surfaced about residents’ ability to pay rent when their jobs were deemed nonessential, and the stability of local homeowners who rent rooms and apartments to meet their mortgages. Attention finally turned to the disparately black and brown prison population, and their increased vulnerability in crowded cells. Eventually, it got directly to matters of life and death, as the stark reality of increased co-morbidity, pervasive and multigenerational lack of access to personal health care and inadequately supplied hospitals translated, day after day, into disparities in death rates by race, class, and community.
Will we act on what we know now to buffer the disparate impact of the next equivalent assault on our communities? Or, will we instead turn our backs on building stronger safety nets because “others” (and we know who they are) might be lifted up, even when such investments would ultimately benefit all of us; for example, as the next more diverse generation supports the aging, majority-white baby boom generation?
Trillions and trillions of dollars will be spent in the coming months to shore up our broken economy. The first few hundred million is making its way to New Jersey right now to shore up higher education alone. But make no mistake: that will only address — and only in part — the symptoms of what ails us. Considering what we know — seen clearly through a racial-equity lens — will we use the accumulated knowledge of our institutions that anchor our communities, and of our citizenry, to actually do something about it … together?
Nancy Cantor is chancellor of Rutgers University – Newark.
Peter Englot is senior vice chancellor for public affairs and chief of staff at Rutgers University – Newark.
January 17, 2020
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on NJ-STEP Alum started his college education behind bars. Now he wants to help kids avoid prison.
Dameon Stackhouse was several years into his prison sentence when he learned he would have a shot at earning his college degree. He was 37 years old and sitting inside East Jersey State Prison.
“You hear things, and over time, you’re just disappointed so many times,” Stackhouse told CBS News. “But I’m optimistic, so whenever something is presented to me, I jump clean on it whether it’s real or not.”
Despite his initial skepticism, the opportunity turned out to be very real. It was 2013, the first year of an initiative known as New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prison, or NJ-STEP.
“When you educate individuals on how to be better and productive citizens, you don’t have to keep reinvesting in that,” Stackhouse said when asked about criticism of tax dollars paying for an inmate’s education.
“That investment turns over,” he added. “You work with the community. It stops our kids from going to the youth correctional facilities.”
Stackhouse currently participates in a diversion initiative to help juveniles stay out of the criminal justice system he spent over a decade in himself. He said the ultimate goal is to open up a youth center of his own.
During Stackhouse’s early days at Rutgers, one professor, in particular, took an interest in his success.
“The students we get are very young, in their late teens, early 20s,” said Elizabeth Torres, an associate professor of psychology. “[Stackhouse] was very soft-spoken. Something about his demeanor is very calming. That’s what I remember the most.”
Now Stackhouse works in Torres’ lab. There he helps conduct experiments for leading autism research. She has pledged to help him find funding to reach his next goal: a Ph.D. in psychology.
East Jersey State Prison houses the most NJ-STEP participants in the state. Hicks said success stories like Stackhouse’s are vital to the growth of the program.
“The typical offender in this facility is here for a longer sentence,” Hicks added. “They’re hungry, they have time to devote to their studies. They see the other successful students have had with their education and word is spreading around.”
Stackhouse not only serves as a role model for those waiting to be released but for the kids he volunteers with. It’s a position he doesn’t take lightly. He says he’s always working toward the goal of his own youth center one day in Trenton.
“I’ve always been a therapist, I’ve just never had the education before,” he said. “Even when I was incarcerated, everybody came to me with issues. I have my own issues, but I can listen. Sometimes people just need to talk it out. I’ve been doing that my whole life.”
By Tyler Kendall
Tyler is a content producer for CBSN. She also covers criminal justice reform. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 10, 2020
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on New Bill Permits NJ State Education Grants in Prison College Programs
December 21, 2019
by Chris Agans
Comments Off on Incarcerated graduates say degrees help them “transcend” prison’s walls
Courtesy of Tyler Kendall, cbsnews.com
“Lavonta Bass’ khaki-colored prison uniform peeks out from beneath his cap and gown. Honor cords are draped around the 42-year-old’s neck. He has spent over a decade in prison but says he was fine delaying an early release if it meant his son could see him graduate as valedictorian.
“I think it was a symbolic moment for him,” Bass told CBS News. “For me to really show him that although I’m here, I’m still trying to do things to better myself.”
CBS News gained exclusive access to East Jersey State Prison for a graduation ceremony in November. Bass was one of 56 incarcerated students who earned a degree — an associate’s from Raritan Valley Community College or a bachelor’s from Rutgers University. “
Read the full story here.
September 23, 2019
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Princeton Prison Teaching Initiative awarded NSF grant to promote STEM careers
The Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI) at Princeton University is one of five organizations awarded a collaborative National Science Foundation grant to build a national alliance that will forge robust pathways to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers for people who are, or were, incarcerated.
PTI is made up of volunteers from around Princeton University who teach accredited college courses in New Jersey state prisons with Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers University as part of the NJ-STEP Consortium, and in the Ft. Dix Federal Correctional Institution in partnership with Mercer County Community College. Co-founded PTI in 2005 by Gillian Knapp, now an emeritus professor of astrophysical sciences, and former postdoctoral fellow Mark Krumholz, Class of 1998, today PTI is an initiative offered through Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.
“We are particularly excited to be part of a large-scale education equity project with leaders who were previously incarcerated,” said Jill Stockwell, administrative director of PTI, “and to propagate our model of summer research internships for formerly incarcerated undergraduates on campuses throughout the nation.”
STEM-OPS has the following four main areas of focus:
STEM-OPS will also advance knowledge of how to provide incarcerated youth with pathways to STEM education and careers.
“I’m a formerly incarcerated person with three felony convictions, sentenced to 10 years in prison,”
said Stanley Andrisse, director and founder of From Prison Cells to PhD. “I was once told by a prosecuting attorney that I had no hope for change. I am now an endocrinologist scientist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine. This prosecutor’s prophesy was a little off. It’s imperative that we offer second chances. We are missing out on talent.”
By Prison Teaching Initiative, Princeton University
It’s about being aware of your opportunities, your potential, and “the hidden treasure inside” of you, explains Darryl Brooks.
There are days, says the recent Rutgers University–Camden graduate, when he will stand on the driveway of his Mount Laurel home and look up at the stars – and even they look a little different.
“I see how my stars are changing,” says Brooks, who graduated in January with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “There’s a path that’s laid for me and I’m paying attention to the signposts now. I’m starting to awaken to my greatness.”
With a new lease on life, Brooks is now a proud graduate of the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP) program. NJ-STEP, an umbrella organization comprised of higher education institutions in New Jersey, partners with the state to provide higher education courses for all students in state custody, and assists in their transition to college life upon their release.
These days, Brooks is still at home on the Rutgers–Camden campus, proctoring exams for the Office of Disability Services – that is, when he’s not busy preparing to take the LSAT with plans to attend Rutgers Law School for dual degrees in law and a master of public administration.
Marsha Besong, assistant chancellor for student academic success at Rutgers–Camden, lauds the Mountainview students for overcoming incredible obstacles in order to continue their education, which include navigating the probation and parole systems, living in halfway houses, and acclimating to new systems, policies, and procedures.
“Even with these challenges, I am proud to share that in the first academic year of the program at Rutgers–Camden, all of the Moutainview students earned GPAs of 3.3 or higher and three students have graduated,” she says.
Make no mistake, says Brooks, education is not just a byproduct of his time spent “on the inside.” He says that it is far and away the primary reason he is a different person than he was a decade ago.
“The prison-to-prosperity pipeline flows through education,” he says.
“It is heartening,” he says. “I am thunderstruck at the opportunities that I have.”
July 10, 2019
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on After 25 Years, Why the Tide Turned for Pell Grants in Prisons
The political tide is turning on “Pell Grants for prisoners.”
A bipartisan groundswell is emerging to reverse the 25-year-old ban on allowing incarcerated people to receive support from the key student-aid program. A bill in Congress, the Restoring Education and Learning Act, has gained cosponsors from both parties. Higher-education leaders and justice-reform organizations support an end to the ban, while the U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is also championing the idea.
Even the language around the issue is changing. That curt description, “Pell Grants for prisoners,” which I remember so well from the 1990s, with all its derisive connotations, is rarely used today. The term of choice these days is “second-chance Pell.” That’s also the name of an experiment, begun by the Obama administration, that now involves 64 colleges offering college-level courses in prisons to more than 10,000 inmates. DeVos intends to expand that experiment and wants to make it permanent. That a Trump official would stand behind any Obama-era higher-ed program, much less embrace its name, speaks volumes about the appeal of this issue.
Having followed this topic even before 1994, when Congress banned the use of Pell Grants for people in prison, I’m heartened by the turnaround in attitudes, but a little wary of all the enthusiasm, too.
When I wrote about those issues 28 years ago, one expert I spoke with was Stephen J. Steurer, then executive director of the Correctional Education Association and statewide coordinator for corrections education in Maryland. Back then, he too noticed the trends, and warned that if states and institutions started “fudging around with the original intent of a Pell Grant,” Congress or the Department of Education would try to eliminate prisoners from the program. As it turned out, Congress did just that three years later, although the rationale was primarily the “tough-on-crime” political ethos that brought the 1994 crime bill into law.
I wondered what had kept him so engaged with the issue of education for inmates all these years. His answer was short and direct: “I saw people who changed.”
By Goldie Blumenstyk
June 26, 2019
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Unlocking HigherEd Releases Social Media Toolkit for Advocacy Efforts
From: UHE Social Media Toolkit
Unlock Higher Education is a coalition of stakeholders dedicated to advocating for policy solutions that increase educational access for individuals with criminal convictions.
While this call-to-action can be used by anyone in any state, UHE has identified key Congressional members who we are targeting for our upcoming Advocacy Day on June 26-27. We want to use the week before we’re in D.C. (June 19-26) to have constituents from the target states reach out and let their representatives know that access to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated students MUST be a priority in the Higher Education Reauthorization
Social Media Toolkit Goals
Please share on all available digital platforms as frequently as possible. The more folks we have contacting their representatives, the more pressure we can raise before our Congressional meetings which ultimately creates the momentum we need to create change.
See full article below for sample posts.
Thirty-three-year-old Tia Ryans (SASN ’19) is not your traditional college graduate.
A formerly incarcerated student who arrived at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) in 2015, she has walked a path no one should have to tread. But with laser-like focus and a lot of hard work—and the support of many individuals who have been there for her along the way—Ryans realized her long-held dream of a college degree, graduating RU-N this past week with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in African American Studies.
“Rutgers-Newark has been the best experience of my life, the driving force behind my dreams and the beginning of my second chance,” says Ryans. “For that I am truly grateful.”
Ryans’ story starts with a tumultuous childhood.
From age 5 to 14 she was sexually abused by her stepfather, prompting her to run away from home often. Along the way she had brushes with the law and lived in a series of group homes. Despite attending seven different schools, she was a good student, graduating from Orange High School in 2004 with a 3.8 GPA.
As she started community college that same summer, life looked good for the Howell, NJ, native, but Ryans was incarcerated during the fall semester and sent to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, in Clinton, NJ, where she served 10 years. About halfway into her term, she began taking college courses with the help of the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons program (NJ-STEP), an association of New Jersey colleges and universities that provides higher-education courses for state inmates and assists in their transition to college life upon release.
Blazing a Trail
Since arriving at RU-N, Ryans has been a tireless advocate for criminal justice reform, especially mass incarceration and its effects on families and communities of color. She’s done this through a series of fellowships, internships and volunteer work, along with participation in campus organizations.
She started in 2016 by becoming a Fellow with Beyond the Bars, a program of Columbia University’s Center for Justice, which provides participants with a deeper understanding of mass incarceration and a chance to collaborate with social-justice activists and academics to plan the organization’s annual conference.
Ryans was the first formerly incarcerated intern for both Payne and FWD.us. The latter org liked her so much, they offered her a job she could do remotely from school starting the following semester.
The Future Is Now
In late 2018 Ryans also started working part-time as a canvasser, then field coordinator, at the nonprofit advocacy group Clean Water Action, based in Montclair, NJ. She’s since been promoted to Field Director of the organization’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program and will be splitting her time between the state office and other locales. It’s her first full-time job out of college.
“I’m definitely excited to be starting a career so soon,” says Ryans. “Initially I was skeptical because I was focused on criminal justice reform, my original passion, and then moved on to environmental work, but then I realized the intersectionality of all these issues and how they impact one another.”
Amidst all this, Ryans is also starting her own nonprofit called FORTE House (Forcing Out Recidivism Through Education), which will provide transitional housing for formerly incarcerated students pursuing a secondary degree in New Jersey. Ryans says the organization will focus on Newark initially, and she hopes to build out to Camden and New Brunswick from there. She drafted her business plan and received mentoring and other resources through Rutgers Business School’s RU Flourishing initiative, which helps ex-inmates start and nurture ventures enabling them to build new lives.
And recently, Ryans was asked to join the Advisory Board for Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI), which was a founding member of NJ-STEP. It’s been a busy few years since arriving at RU-N and undoubtedly the best of Ryans’ life thus far.
“Rutgers has welcomed a large number of formerly incarcerated students to learn and excel with open arms,” says Ryans. “I speak for many when I say we are incredibly grateful.”
During this years commencement, Chancellor Nancy Cantor highlights the work of NJ-STEP and specifically a 2018 graduate Ron Pierce who served 30 years in prison. After referencing Ron and his work during his incarceration and after graduation, an applause ensues. Ron was highlighted specifically for his work in Voter Registration, and Chancellor Cantor closes by quoting him directly in saying, “Our voices matter”.
See Video Here. Time: 1:44 – 1:48
By The RU-N Report
May 28, 2019
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Vera Institute Releases Final Report on Pathways Project
NJSTEP, alongside programs from Michigan and North Carolina, is featured in the Vera Institute’s final report on the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. This report describes the demonstration project’s design and implementation, the experiences of Pathways partners as they carried out the program model, and the ways in which partners learned, adjusted, reflected, and adapted to overcome the hurdles to running a high-quality college program in a prison and supporting education engagement during reentry.
Chris Hedges gave this talk to 27 graduating students who were formerly incarcerated—several of whom he taught in prison—and their families at Rutgers University on Friday. The ceremony was held by the Mountainview Program at Rutgers, which helps students complete their degrees at Rutgers after they take college courses inside prisons through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP) program.
My fellow college graduates: Integrity is not an inherited trait. It is not conferred by privilege or status or wealth. It cannot be bequeathed by elite schools or institutions. It is not a product of birth or race or gender. Integrity is not a pedigree or a brand. Integrity is earned. Integrity is determined not by what we do in life, but what we do with what life gives us. It is what we overcome. Integrity is the ability to affirm our dignity even when the world tells us we are worthless. Integrity is forged in pain and suffering, loss and tragedy. It is forged in the courtrooms where you were sentenced…
Several of you are my former students: Boris, Steph, Tone, Hanif and Ron—although to be honest it is hard for me to use the word “former.” To me you always will be my students. I have spent many hours with you in prison classrooms. I know the scars you bear. You will bear these scars, this trauma, for life. Own your suffering. Do not deny it. And know that healing comes only by reaching out to others who suffer. It is to say to those thrown aside by society: “I too was despised. I too was where you are. I too felt alone and abandoned. But like me, you can and will endure.”
“There are people in this room who committed crimes, but there are no criminals here today.”
My first student to get out of prison, nearly four years ago, Boris Franklin, is graduating today. I met him with his mother at the gate. He had spent 11 years inside. His first words to me were “I have to rebuild my library.”
Boris was part of the class in East Jersey State Prison that wrote the play “Caged.” He and I devoted hundreds of hours over the last four years editing and rewriting it for the stage. It was performed a year ago at the Passage Theatre in Trenton, with Boris taking one of the pivotal roles. It was sold out nearly every night, attended by families who knew too intimately the pain of mass incarceration.
By Chris Hedges and Mr. Fish
April 26, 2019
by Eric Pereira
Comments Off on Why ‘Lifers’ Need Access to Postsecondary Correctional Education
More than 20 years ago, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 made incarcerated individuals ineligible for Pell Grants, the funds awarded to students seeking a college degree who demonstrate exceptional financial need. This policy led to dramatic decreases in higher-education offerings for those serving time in prison.
Today, lawmakers are considering the Restoring Education and Learning Act, a federal bill that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. Contrary to the “tough on crime” rhetoric that spurred the 1994 act, postsecondary education programs in prisons are well worth the investment.
One study found that earning a postsecondary degree while incarcerated can reduce an individual’s chances of being rearrested by 14% and their chances of returning to prison for committing a new offense by 24%. When these programs are accessible to everyone in a given prison, participation rates increase further, translating to better outcomes for those who will one day leave prison and reenter our society.
Unfortunately, since the introduction of the REAL Act, some lawmakers have been hesitant to include eligibility for those who have been sentenced to serve life sentences, or even longer-than-average sentences. This is a mistake.
Postsecondary education promotes a positive, safer community behind bars. Without adequate programming to keep prisoners mentally active and socially connected, they can experience depression as well as an increased tendency to seek out new sources of stimulation, which includes engaging in disruptive or violent outbursts. This puts other inmates, as well as prison staff, at risk.