NJ-STEP

Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons

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July 10, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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After 25 Years, Why the Tide Turned for Pell Grants in Prisons

From: https://www.chronicle.com

Pell Grants for the incarcerated.

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.

A generation later, still fighting the good fight.

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.”

Read Full Article Here.

By Goldie Blumenstyk

July 8, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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The NJ STEP Community Congratulates Maurice Smith and the Goucher Program

From: https://www.nytimes.com

A federal program with bipartisan support in Congress has helped Maurice Smith, who served 27 years in prison, earn a four-year degree while he was incarcerated. Now that he’s been released, he told us he wanted to “rewrite my life story.”

BALTIMORE — Maurice Smith stood anxious and alone, as the crowd of graduates around him hugged and chatted a few feet away. He was cloaked in the same black gown and donned the same black cap, but that was about all that he and the rest of Goucher College’s Class of 2019 had in common.

When they were 19, they were starting college. When he was 19, he was starting a prison sentence for murder that would last 27 years, one month and seven days — longer than his fellow graduates had been alive.

“There are many roads to this moment,” said Mr. Smith, 47, as he held up the cellphone he had recently learned to use and snapped a picture of himself against a backdrop of squares and tassels. “They took theirs. I took mine. But we’re all here.”

Mr. Smith’s journey from incarceration to college graduate has been cheered on by a bipartisan and ideologically diverse coalition that has pressed the case for criminal justice. The path he took was quietly extended in the last year to thousands of other prisoners across the country. Mr. Smith was able to complete his bachelor’s degree through the Goucher Prison Education Partnership while serving at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, using federal Pell grants offered through a pilot program called Second Chance Pell.

 

Read Full Article Here.

 

By Erica L. Green

 

June 26, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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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.

Advocacy Efforts

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
Act.

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.

 

Read Full Article Here.

 

May 29, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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Tia Ryans Makes the Most of Her Second Chance

From: https://sasn.rutgers.edu

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.”

Read Full Article Here.

By Lawrence Lerner

 

May 28, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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NJ-STEP Alum Highlighted at RU-N Commencement

From: https://us3.campaign-archive.com

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
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Vera Institute Releases Final Report on Pathways Project

From: https://www.vera.org

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. 

Read Full Article Here.

  • Fred Patrick - Director
    Fred Patrick
  • Ruth Delaney - Program Manager
    Ruth Delaney
  • Alex  Boldin - Research Analyst
    Alex Boldin

May 13, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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Integrity Forged in Cages

 

From: https://www.truthdig.com

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.

Read Full Article Here.

By Chris Hedges and Mr. Fish

April 26, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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Why ‘Lifers’ Need Access to Postsecondary Correctional Education

From: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com

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.

 

Read Full Article Here. 

 

 

April 18, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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Congress Should Repeal the Ban on Pell Grants

From: https://www.americanprogress.org/

Close the Curtain on This 1994 Legislative Penal Drama

A lot has changed in the 25 years since the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed. For many elected officials, it is now politically advantageous to be seen as a criminal justice reformer rather than a supporter of mass incarceration. Even President Donald Trump claims to be a reformer—regardless of whether his policies and attorneys general nominations actually reflect this. Yet one thing remains constant: Education, especially higher education, continues to be the most effective intervention for those in prison. All people who are incarcerated in state and federal prisons—regardless of why or for how long they are in prison—should once again be able to access Pell Grants, so that they can better the lives of themselves and their families.

There may be no place in America where opportunity and transformation are more important than in state and federal prisons. Education has the unique ability to offer a person both. That is why Congress should take advantage of this rare opportunity to pass a bipartisan bill—as a standalone bill or as part of Higher Education Act reauthorization—that would immediately have a positive impact on people’s lives and on society at large. It is long past due for the curtain to close on this legislative penal drama.

Read Full Article Here.

Incarcerated students at Jessup Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, discuss proposals for prison reform with students from Georgetown University, June 2016.

Getty/The Washington Post/Lucian PerkinsIncarcerated students at Jessup Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, discuss proposals for prison reform with students from Georgetown University, June 2016.

 

By Brent Cohen

 

 

 

April 11, 2019
by Eric Pereira
0 comments

Second Chance Pell: 8,800 Justice Impacted Students

From: https://thecrimereport.org

Since 2015, about 8,800 incarcerated individuals have received federal Pell grant assistance to take college-level courses inside their correctional institutions. But has the program made a difference to their lives?

So far, the answer is unclear. Not only is the timeline too short to assess whether the grants have lowered recidivism or improved incarcerees’ chances of post-release employment; but there’s still no effective evaluation of how well the program itself is working in the 59 schools that have participated.

The GAO reported that the federal Department of Education plans to conduct a “rigorous” examination of the program after first insisting that it had neither the funds nor the capacity to provide more than a “descriptive” evaluation.

“[This] will help provide policymakers with the information needed to make decisions about the future of Pell grants for incarcerated students,” wrote Gretta L. Goodwin, director of the Homeland Security and Justice division at GAO.

GAO cited several research studies showing reductions in recidivism among incarcerees who participated in some form of correctional education—including a 2013 RAND “meta-study” which found that inmates participating in educational programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than non-participants, and 13 percent higher odds of getting a job post-release.

 

Read Full Article Here. 

 

Sing Sing

Incarcerees at a college course in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State. Photo courtesy Hudson link for Higher Education in Prison

March 19, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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Social Supports Essential to Maintain Mental Health in Reentry

From: https://news.rutgers.edu

The study, published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, found that [the formerly incarcerated], particularly those of color, who had access to and used social resources had better mental health and a more successful reentry back into society than those who did not. The findings suggest that without such supports, incarcerated men could face significant challenges as they try to regain their lives.

Lead author Pamela Valera, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “It is well established that people who have stable support systems are better positioned to accomplish a successful reentry and maintain a sense of well-being and better mental health.”

Read Full Article Here.

By Michele Edelstein

March 7, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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NJSTEP’s Formerly Incarcerated Speakers Advocate for the Voting Rights of the Incarcerated at Princeton University Panel

From: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com

A panel organized by SPEAR at Princeton University, primarily made up of Rutgers Mountainview students centering around S2100 (also known as A3456), a bill introduced in the New Jersey state legislature in March 2018 that would remove prohibition on voting by persons convicted of indictable offenses who are on parole, probation, or serving sentences.

In a panel discussion on the relationship between voting rights and criminal justice reform on Tuesday, March 5, Cassandra Severe, the first speaker, walked the audience through her life journey…

Paul Kazelis, an Iraq War Combat Veteran who was incarcerated for five years as a result of a heroin addiction he developed due to undiagnosed PTSD, spoke on why he believes voting is a “basic human right.”…

Antonne Henshaw served a 30-year prison sentence, during which he earned a B.A. from Rutgers University and is now the Vice President of Wo/Men Who Never Give Up, Inc. He said politicians make one thing clear: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”…

Ron Pierce, the evening’s moderator and a Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, echoed Henshaw’s sentiment….

Ibrahim Sulamani, another formerly incarcerated individual on the panel, pointed out a specific personal interaction when walking down the street with Antonne Henshaw and adana escort eryaman escort kayseri escort kızılay escort mersin escort canlı bahis canlı bahis sitesi deneme bonusu veren bahis siteleri canlı casino oyna kaçak bahis canlı bahis numara sorgulama encouraged two children volunteering with a voter registration campaign to “vote because we can’t.”

Boris Franklin, who is also formerly incarcerated and served 11 years in prison is now an author and student at Rutgers University, spoke on the hypocrisy of depriving seven million tax-paying citizens of the right to vote.

“This is taxation without representation,” he said.

Read Full Article Here.

 

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by Marie-Rose Sheinerman / The Daily Princetonian

March 5, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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NJ-STEP Professor Awarded Seed Grant

From: https://rutgersclassics.com

Emily Allen-Hornblowerassociate professor of Classics at Rutgers-New Brunswick and a professor with NJ-STEP, has been awarded one of The Whiting Foundation’s five Public Engagement Seed Grants for 2019-20 for a series of communal conversations, “The Public Face of Emotions: Public Engagement and the Emotions in Our Lives”.

The project aims to engage the public in discussions of ancient Greek tragedy and epic with formerly incarcerated students as an opportunity for the building of civic bridges. Read Full Article Here.

Professor Emily Allen-Hornblower, Rutgers Department of Classics

March 1, 2019
by Eric Pereira
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A National Day of Empathy for Those Impacted by the Justice System

From: https://www.insidernj.com

On March 5, 2019, Americans impacted by the criminal justice system nationwide will meet with lawmakers to share their stories and experiences.

Crime hurts. Justice should heal. That’s why we’re joining the National Day of Empathy with #cut50 to build empathy in our governors, state legislators, and other policymakers to act now on criminal justice reform. #DayOfEmpathy and cordially invite you and your staff to attend one of the events at numerous locations throughout New Jersey, the main event will be in Newark.

In order to reform our criminal justice system, we must first humanize and empathize with those who are impacted by it. This includes crime survivors and those who have committed crimes. There will be 5 separate events throughout New Jersey: Atlantic City, Burlington, Camden, Newark, and Patterson.

Scheduled speakers include Kevin Muhammad, Women/Men Who Never Give Up Inside/Out Program Mentor, Raymond Thomas, Newark 2-A Survivor’s School of Hard Knocks, Justice Roundtree from 360 Arts & Justice, Tiyana Scarlett, Barry Pinckney, Antonne Henshaw, Ibrahim Sulaimani, William Steltz,and Mark Hopkins, all NJ-STEP/MVC students, Gloria Lucas Reynolds, whose son died while he was incarcerated, Ronald Pierce of NJISJ,  Dameon M. Stackhouse, NJ-STEP Rutgers, Asst. Program Manager Social Worker Liaison at NJISJ Autism Center Of Excellence and others.

Read Full Article Here.

 

 

February 24, 2019
by Administrator
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Why is There Still and Ban on Pell Grants for Prisoners?

Recent article, How the Federal Government Undermines Prison Education, by adana escort mersin escort eryaman escort ankara escort kayseri escort eskişehir escort bedava bonus veren bahis siteleri canlı casino canlı casino oyna canlı casino sitesi casino bonus metropol casino casino metropol canlı casino canlı casino sitesi canlı casino canlı bahis Jordan Smith.

 

January 31, 2019
by Administrator
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Vera Institute Releases “Investing in Futures” Report

The Vera Institute of Justice released their report: Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison.

Overview (via https://www.vera.org/publications/investing-in-futures-education-in-prison)

“Efforts to build robust postsecondary education programs in prison have accelerated in recent years, with support from a broad range of groups from correctional officers to college administrators. This report describes how lifting the current ban on awarding Pell Grants to incarcerated people would benefit workers, employers, and states. Specifically, adana escort adana escort eryaman escort kayseri escort kızılay escort mersin escort canlı bahis canlı bahis sitesi deneme bonusu veren bahis siteleri canlı casino oyna kaçak bahis canlı bahis numara sorgulama isimden numara sorgulama numaradan isim sorgulama it analyzes the potential employment and earnings impact of postsecondary education programs in prison; identifies the millions of job openings annually that require the skills a person in prison could acquire through postsecondary education; and estimates the money states would save through lower recidivism rates these postsecondary education programs would yield.”

 

January 16, 2019
by Eric Pereira
0 comments

College Aid for Prisoners Pays Dividends for All Down the Line

From: https://www.njspotlight.com

Allowing prisoners to receive federal aid to pay for college courses while incarcerated would reduce recidivism rates, save states money and boost the economy as former inmates get higher-paying jobs, a new report shows.

Entitled Investing in Futures, the report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimates that nearly 463,000 inmates in state prisons — including 7,239, or more than a third of the prison population, in New Jersey — would benefit if the federal government rescinds a 1994 law that prevents people from receiving Pell Grants while incarcerated. Pell Grants are the main federal college aid that does not need to be repaid for low-income students. Even if only half of those eligible in New Jersey were to take college classes, that would lead to a 5 percent increase in the number of former prisoners employed each year and a $650,000 rise in wages earned the year after their release, according to the report.

“This would benefit not just the incarcerated people themselves, but also the communities they will be returning to,” said Nick Turner, president of the Vera Institute, a New York-based organization advocating for criminal justice reforms.

The institute’s push to make it easier for those in prison to get an education dovetails with an effort by New Jersey lawmakers to extend eligibility for state financial aid to inmates here. The Senate last year passed S-2055, which would eliminate a provision in current state law that prohibits prisoners from receiving either state grants or scholarships, most notably Tuition Assistance Grants for those of low income. The bill awaits action by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

College courses are offered in seven of New Jersey’s nine correctional facilities through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, or NJ-STEP. Working with the state Department of Corrections and Parole Board, a group of colleges offers a host of classes, including Cumberland Community College, Drew University, Essex County College, Mercer County Community College, Princeton University, Raritan Valley Community College, Salem Community College and The College of New Jersey. The consortium is housed at Rutgers University in Newark.

Advocates: Now is the right time for reform

NJ-STEP, which enrolled about 550 students last July, is funded largely by nonprofit foundations. Some students currently get federal aid in the form of Second Chance Pell Grants, a pilot program the Obama administration began in 2016 offering grants for about 12,000 inmates nationwide.

Unlocking the ‘transformative’ power of education

Arthur Rizer, Justice and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the R Street Institute, said when inmates are taking classes, they are busy and less apt to cause trouble for fellow prisoners and guards. But they also feel better about themselves.

“An education is transformative, which is why we send our kids to college,” said Rizer, a former police officer and prosecutor who now works at the conservative think tank. “For the person who is incarcerated, it is even more transformative. They have no hope. But in the classroom, they see themselves as a person, rather than just another number being watched by the guards.”

Jose Bou, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University while serving a 12-year prison sentence for drug trafficking, attested to that.

“Something happened as I started to get educated,” said Bou, who is now equity, family and community partnerships manager at the Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts. “I wanted to be part of something bigger.”

Read Full Article Here.

October 18, 2018
by Administrator
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At This College, Academic Excellence Requires Passion for the Social Good

At New Jersey’s Rutgers University, a new honors program for undergraduates is redefining academic excellence. Students accepted into the highly competitive Honors Living Learning Community (HLLC) study critical social issues and prove their commitment to becoming “change-makers.” While the program is small, its early outcomes have been promising. Hari Sreenivasan has the story from Newark which features several NJ STEP Students.

 

 

September 5, 2018
by Administrator
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NJSTEP Alum Advocates for Voting Rights Restoration

Ronald Pierce, Formerly Incarcerated, Now an Advocate of Voting Rights for Those with Criminal Convictions

Ronald Pierce addresses attendees at a Feb. 26, 2018, press conference in Trenton to announce the introduction of legislation to restore voting rights to people with convictions. Photo by Dan Hedden

Thirty years. Eight months. Fourteen days. That’s how much time out of his 30-to-life sentence Ronald Pierce served in New Jersey’s maximum security prisons before being paroled.

After more than three decades of life spent on the “inside,” what’s a newly released person to do?

Well, for Pierce it would be business as usual. He would continue pursuit of his bachelor’s degree in justice studies from the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) thanks to the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) program.

NJ-STEP, a statewide initiative administered by RU-N, works in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the State Parole Board, and a network of public and private, two- and four-year colleges, including Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Rutgers University–Camden, to provide higher education courses to eligible individuals who are incarcerated in one of New Jersey’s seven correctional facilities. The program also assists in the transition to college life of released students who demonstrate college-readiness and an eagerness to improve their lives.

Pierce enrolled in NJ-STEP during the spring semester of 2013, and when he left East Jersey State Prison in 2016, he had earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Mercer County Community College and completed two RU-N courses toward his bachelor’s degree. Pierce was one of 150 students in NJ-STEP’s first cohort of adult male students, selected competitively out of a field of 1,100 eligible applicants. The fact that he already had 12 college credits under his belt before he enrolled made him a top contender for the program.

“NJ-STEP is a great program. We learned from prominent scholars,” Pierce stated. He recalled thought-provoking philosophy lectures by Cornel West, in-depth lessons on Latin American history by Chris Hedges, and lots of spirited discourse among his classmates.

“NJ-STEP kept us connected to the outside world and helped to create an atmosphere of change throughout the entire prison. There was a sense of community, collegiality, and cooperation. And most importantly, there was hope for a better future. Not just individually, but hope for an improved system and better policies that impacted everyone on the inside.”

According to Pierce, for these reasons and more, NJ-STEP became quite popular. “Everyone wanted to join. One of the eligibility requirements is a high school diploma or equivalent. So, quite a few people assertively sought tutoring to pass the GED exam.”

Soon after his release, Pierce transitioned to RU-N. He graduated summa cum laude in 2018 and became RU-N’s first graduate of the justice studies program.

Also in 2018, Pierce was named the inaugural Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) based in Newark, New Jersey. Pierce had interned at NJISJ during his last two semesters at RU-N.

The Democracy and Justice Fellowship is awarded to a previously incarcerated person who has demonstrated great compassion and advocacy for individuals in prison and those released. The two-year program provides gainful employment and networking opportunities for a talented and dedicated person who has a felony conviction.

“I’m so thankful for my internship with NJISJ because it confirmed that social justice activism is my calling. It’s a meaningful way for me to make a difference and to help my friends on the inside,” Pierce shared.

As a Democracy and Justice Fellow, Pierce hopes to tear down the many barriers to re-entry. While the lack of housing and employment present tremendous challenges for those newly released, Pierce believes restoration of voting rights is the greatest concern. A healthy democracy demands full, unfettered civic engagement, according to Pierce, who last casted a vote in 1985.

“Our voices matter. Through voting we’re no longer silenced. Voting empowers us and allows us to have a say in how we want to be governed.”

During the ensuing two years, Pierce looks forward to convincing state legislators likewise.

 

July 2, 2018
by Eric Pereira
0 comments

NJ Close to Giving Prisoners Access to State Financial Aid for College Courses

From: https://www.njspotlight.com

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey says initiative would be ‘a game changer,’ offering those who are incarcerated the prospect of a career rather than a return to the streets ‘with no hope’

New Jersey would become one of the few states in the nation to provide state financial aid to those who are incarcerated and want to take college courses under a measure working its way through the Legislature. By doing so, it would expand access to college course to more inmates, as existing programs rely on national foundation grants.

Advocates said that ensuring prisoners who want to take classes can afford to do so could be transformational in helping those serving time be able to change their lives and better themselves when they complete their sentences and return to society.

“This is tremendously important; it’s a game changer for many of our clients,” said former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is chairman of the board of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation. “Taking these courses allows them to have a goal linked to long term career prospects, as opposed to returning to the streets with no hope other than the chaos of the streets.”

A 2014 RAND Corporation study found that those who took classes — college, vocational and high school-equivalency degree courses — while in prison had lower rates of reincarceration and higher rates of post-release employment than prisoners who did not take classes. The study also found that “the direct costs of reincarceration were far greater than the direct costs of providing correctional education” and “correctional education programs appear to far exceed the break-even point in reducing the risk of reincarceration.”

Ending prohibition on prisoners

The bill (S-2055) would eliminate a provision in current state law that prohibits prisoners from receiving either state grants or scholarships. Instead, anyone who was a New Jersey resident for at least a year before incarceration would be eligible for aid, subject to the same rules that apply to all other grant recipients, if the state Department of Corrections (DOC) deems him or her eligible to enroll in college classes.

 

Reducing prison population

“New Jersey has made significant strides in reducing its prison population through the offering of higher education opportunities,” Cunningham said. “However, if New Jersey loses the ability to keep programs such as NJ-STEP at its facilities, it will see its inmate population increase and raise the state’s expenses.”

Ruth Delaney, program manager at the Vera Institute of Justice, which has provided funding for NJ-STEP, praised the bill’s passage.

“New Jersey has long been a leader in providing postsecondary education for people in prison, but the Senate vote today moved the state one step closer to removing one of the biggest obstacles to enrollment,” she said. “Expanding access to postsecondary education in prison will help provide people with the skills they need to secure jobs and other opportunities upon release … Our hope is that with states like New Jersey paving the way, others will follow suit and reconsider state and federal barriers to postsecondary education in prison, so as to create a justice system that produces better outcomes for all.”

The bill cleared the Senate last week by a vote of 27-10, largely along party lines. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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June 18, 2018
by Eric Pereira
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Educational Opportunities For Incarcerated Individuals : A Second Chance

From: https://www.educationdive.com

When Congress decided to stop extending Pell grant eligibility to prisoners, despite the fact that a Government Accountability Office report at the time showed there was no impact on other needy students’ ability to receive aid by maintaining prison Pell, several institutions in many states worked privately to continue to extend these opportunities to students in their states.

Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public system that includes 30 campuses, and Raritan Valley Community College, in Branchburg Township, were among them, and are the only two institutions in the state approved.

Even before President Obama announced a pilot program to bring back prison Pell beginning in the 2016-17 school year — with Rutgers and Raritan Valley co-authorized as a pilot site serving seven correctional facilities across the state — the institutions had been working to provide educational associations to incarcerated individuals, with particular efforts toward reintegrating them back onto the campuses upon their release.

Obama’s Second Chance Pell program was enacted as an executive action under the experimental sites provision of the Higher Education Act in 2015, targeting approximately 12,000 inmates at over 100 federal and state penal institutions across the country who are within three and five years of release. The partnering institutions offer classroom-based instruction at the prisons — in the case of Rutgers and Raritan Valley, New Jersey inmates can earn either an associate of arts degree for transfer, or a bachelor of arts in criminal justice. Raritan Valley offers the associate degree, Rutgers the bachelors, and the entire program is administered under the umbrella of the NJ-Step program, which is the latest iteration of a consortium agreement around prison education in New Jersey. NJ-Step is housed at Rutgers and serves as a liaison organization between the community college, university system and the prison system.

 

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Graduation ceremony for inmates at the women’s prison
Credit: Raritan Valley Community College
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