Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons

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January 26, 2020
by Eric Pereira

New N.J. law will sustain college offerings for incarcerated residents

From: https://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

Bianco, 34, of Eagleswood Township spent six and half years in prison. Two years in, she was introduced to NJ-STEP, a program through which she could build upon the associate’s degree she had already obtained toward a bachelor’s degree.

“I didn’t want to sit and waste my time. I already wasted enough of my life,” she said. “When I went away my son was 6. I came home he turned 13. I literally missed his whole life. It wasn’t an option for me to come home and not be OK.”

Thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this month, state tuition aid will now permanently be available to New Jersey residents who are incarcerated, enshrining an experimental federal education effort that began under the Obama administration re-opening access to higher education in prison.

NJ-STEP, short for New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, is a partnership between New Jersey Department of Corrections, Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers University-Newark that offers associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs to qualifying prisoners within the state prisons. There are also several other colleges, especially Princeton University, that contribute instructors and other resources to the program.

When a prisoner is released, if they did not finish their degree, they have the opportunity to apply and enroll in other colleges with assistance from NJ-STEP.

Prior to 2016, NJ-STEP was entirely funded through private money and institutions. Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Education instituted the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative giving NJ-STEP the opportunity to use the Pell grants to offset the cost of education in prisons. Now, the availability of TAG money will make the program sustainable, said NJ-STEP Director Chris Agans.

Agans said the student outcomes are tremendous, so far.

“We have folks who are working for all sectors of industry,” Agans said. “A large number of our folks go into social work and nonprofits.”

He said the graduates are “uniquely qualified for that work because of their lived experiences.”

Allen Tally was 30 years old when he went to prison in 1989, facing 25 years to life, on robbery and aggravated assault charges — a father, an addict and uneducated.

At age 56, Tally enrolled a program called NJ-STEP, where he began taking classes toward a college degree. Now, after being released from South Woods State Prison last year, he is on his way to a bachelor’s in social work from Rutgers-Camden.

“I was a troubled youth. I didn’t have any guidance and it led me the wrong way. I think based on my life experience the things that I’ve been through I can contribute, especially (to) young black youth like me,” Tally said. “I went from a prison cell to one of the top universities in the state, and I’m doing my thing and I’m successful.”

Read Full Article Here.

By Claire Lowe

January 17, 2020
by Eric Pereira

MVC Alum Dameon Stackhouse Leads the Way


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.

Stackhouse, now 43, says access to education transformed the way the prison operated. The college degrees earned inside look identical to the ones a student would earn on a traditional campus, renewing a sense of purpose for those enrolled in the program.

“It brought all the communities closer together,” Stackhouse added. “You’re talking about individual gangs. Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings working together without any issues.”

Stackhouse said the program helped ease tensions throughout the prison because no one wanted to “damage another individual’s opportunity.”

“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.

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.”


Read Full Article Here.

By Tyler Kendall

Tyler is an associate producer for CBSN. She also covers criminal justice reform. Reach her at: tyler@cbsnews.com.

December 20, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Incarcerated graduates say degrees help them “transcend” prison’s walls

From: https://www.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.

Both degrees carry the same credentials as if they were earned on the respective campuses, said the program’s coordinator.

“If we had a degree inside that didn’t stand the test of time when the person leaves, what would we really be offering them in terms of a credential?” said Sheila Meiman, a director at Raritan Valley. “They need the skills, they need the knowledge, they need the ability to transfer that degree.”

The program is part of an initiative called New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prison, or NJ-STEP — a partnership between Raritan Valley, Rutgers and the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Bass has been behind bars since 2006 for an aggravated assault conviction. As he prepares for release, he said his focus is on using his education to provide for his family.

“I’ve been gone for quite some time,” Bass said. “Everything I do now, it’s not about me, it’s about them. This is just one step of many that needs to be taken so we can continue to move forward.”

Seven out of 13 correctional facilities in the state participate in NJ-STEP. Since 2012, more than 200 students have earned associates degrees and more than 40 students have graduated with their bachelor’s in Justice Studies.

One of the biggest hurdles for such programs is the cost. That’s in large part due to the 1994 crime bill, which barred incarcerated individuals from obtaining federal student aid through Pell Grants.

That spirit resonates with Marvin Spears, the valedictorian of the bachelor’s program. In his graduation speech, the 54-year-old said he views his classmates earning degrees as an ideological shift. Looking out at a crowd of family and friends, he spoke about “redefining the identity of the incarcerated man.”

That’s an identity Spears has carried for decades. He was sent to prison in 1994 for first-degree murder.

“We’ve always been painted with the picture that we are our crimes,” Spears told CBS News. “Going through the program and having people believe in us, showed us that if we did the right thing with the program then it would transcend these walls.”

Studies show that education helps reduce the likelihood someone will land back behind bars. Once released, 90% of formerly incarcerated students who earn a Rutgers degree are employed or participating in a full-time graduate study program within a year.

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December 9, 2019
by Eric Pereira

NJ-STEP alum shares his story on ‘The Ellen Show’

From: https://www.nj.com

He has gone from sitting in jail cells to sitting on the couch at “The Ellen Show.”

Jersey City native Frank “Educational” Gilmore, 37, will appear on Ellen DeGeneres show Tuesday (Ch. 4, 3 p.m.), discussing how he transformed from a young drug dealer into a youth mentor.

“When I am doing this work, I don’t look for recognition or anything, so when they called and told me who they were, I thought it was a joke.”

Gilmore, known to the local kids as “Coach Woo,” works for Jersey City, in the Recreation Department. He spends his off time mentoring at-risk young people who are growing up on the same streets he worked as a teen drug dealer.

After his final release from prison, he earned an associate’s degree in business administration from Hudson County Community College and a bachelor’s degree in communication and entrepreneurship from Rutgers University.

Three years ago, Gilmore opened a community center on Monticello Avenue, where kids can do homework, get tutoring or just play video games. The Educational Gilmore Community Learning Center is located near the corner where he was arrested in the early 2000s, an arrest that landed him a 10-year prison sentence.

He said nobody does this for the money, because there is none. They invest their time because they care about the community.

“Personally, I feel like I am indebted to the community,” Gilmore said. “I have done so much wrong. It’s my job to, you know, right my wrongs and try to clear my conscience with the things I’ve done.”

Read Full Article Here.


Watch The Video on Ellen Here.

November 21, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Not Forgotten: Recovering Florida’s Silenced History of Enslavement from Prison

From: http://www.processhistory.org

Since 2018, Antonio Rosa, Pete, and other men incarcerated at Tomoka Correctional Institution (TCI) in Daytona Beach, Florida have been collecting, transcribing, and analyzing archival documents in order to expose the history of enslavement on a plantation located about thirty miles from the prison. Without access to the internet or physical records, Antonio and Pete have built an archive that testifies to the lives of enslaved men and women on the nearby Spring Garden Plantation, now known as the De Leon Springs State Park. Though an exhibit in the park claims that enslaved men and women are “long forgotten,” Antonio, Pete, and their fellow researchers are demonstrating otherwise.

Antonio and Pete, along with other students enrolled in Stetson University’s Community Education Project, are currently producing a public history exhibit that will bring the legacy of injustice on the land surrounding TCI to life and deliver a “personal” impact, as Pete writes, on local visitors. Through this work, the researchers are challenging what Antonio calls the “historical inequities” of both the lived experience of the past and contemporary public memory.

Antonio and Pete, who prefers to use only his first name, corresponded with Anne Gray Fischer, assistant editor of the Journal of American History, to share details about their Public History Project, how they have undertaken their work, their surprising findings, and their vision for the future of the project.


Green trees surround a deep blue lake. The text reads, "Aerial View of Ponce DeLeon Springs."

Pete and Antonio write about this 1950s postcard of the former site of Springs Garden Plantation: “It is not hard to imagine the place as it would have looked when 39 enslaved persons arrived in 1804 and manually cleared dense forests for planting cotton and grazing cattle.” Image courtesy of authors.



The current history of Spring Garden Plantation on exhibit at DeLeon Springs State Park is a prime example of inequitable treatment in the production of history. Mention is made of Joseph and Jane Woodruff, owners of the plantation from 1823 to 1830, while nothing is said about several enslaved individuals whose names made it into the archives and our research has recovered.

Recovering the lives and stories of people like Angelica and Anthony from wills, probate inventories, and voting records is a first step towards lifting them from obscurity, sharing their history with the public, and redressing the inequities in the current exhibit.

Read Full Article Here.

By OAH Blog

November 20, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Lawmakers Pursue ‘Social Justice’ Through Prison Reforms

From: https://www.njspotlight.com

New Jersey continues to incarcerate African Americans and Latinos at far greater rates than whites.

New Jersey lawmakers are continuing to pursue prison reform, most recently by advancing measures that would make it easier for nonviolent offenders to be paroled, give all returning citizens re-entry plans and make college classes more affordable to those in prison.

The state has already implemented a number of criminal-justice and prison reforms in recent years, including the virtual elimination of cash bail and shortening of the expungement process. Four months ago, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation putting limits on the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities.

Financial aid for college

The other measure passed by the committee (A-3722) would permit currently incarcerated peoples to receive state financial aid to enable them to take college courses offered behind bars. Currently, a state law prohibits currently incarcerated people from receiving either state grants or scholarships, most notably Tuition Assistance Grants for those of low income.

College courses are offered in seven of New Jersey’s correctional facilities through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, or NJ-STEP. According to the NJ-STEP website, Drew University, Princeton University, Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers University currently offer instruction. In past years, about 550 incarcerated students were enrolled.

NJ-STEP is funded largely by nonprofit foundations, while some students also get federal aid in the form of Second Chance Pell Grants, a pilot program the Obama administration began in 2016. Rutgers University-Newark provides most of the funding to administer the program. More courses could be offered if a more stable form of funding were available.

According to Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), who has championed the measure in the Senate, studies show that every $1 invested in correctional education programs resulted in as much as a $5 dollar reduction in state incarceration costs during the first three years of a person’s release.

Read Full Article Here.

By Colleen O’Dea


November 6, 2019
by Eric Pereira

How Biden Killed Prison Education

From: https://www.theatlantic.com/

My friend Twist and I are both incarcerated. But I’m getting a college degree, and he, like most prisoners in recent decades, hasn’t been able to:

In 2010, I joined a creative-writing workshop taught by a volunteer at New York’s Attica prison, where I was incarcerated at the time. A handful of us sat in a half circle in a classroom in an otherwise deserted school building on prison grounds. We were reading one of the Best American Essays collections. I checked to see where the stories had originally been published and eventually decided to send a piece about gun control to one of the listed magazines. In 2013, The Atlantic published “A Convicted Murderer’s Case for Gun Control,” my professional debut.

Around that time, my writing instructor secured funding for a pilot community-college liberal-arts program in Attica. Just 23 of the 2,300 men in the prison made the cut, including those of us who had been in the workshop. Attica was a crazy place in which to study or find peace of mind. Alarm bells rang. Men cut and stabbed one another. Tear gas dropped. After class, I’d return to my cell in C Block and sometimes watch sanctioned fight nights, in which two prisoners would brawl on the tier while guards looked on and wagered on them.

This is how I first met Gerard Johnson, who calls himself Twist. He was 23 years old, one of the brawlers, and my neighbor. He had a lot of problems back then, not least because he had renounced his affiliation with the Bloods. When my cell door popped for evening class, I’d hear Twist tell his neighbor in the cell across the tier that he wished he could be in college. He was a knucklehead, but he was also a curious kid who yearned to learn. I shared with Twist a book of essays; he was drawn to W. E. B. Du Bois. In the midst of the chaos, Twist and I would talk about what I was learning in sociology class. Leaning on our gates, we would discuss questions such as, Do our circumstances shape our lives? Do we make choices that carve our own paths? Do we even have choices?

In September 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, penned by Joe Biden, then a Delaware senator. Experts have had plenty of debates about whether the 1994 crime bill was responsible for a subsequent decline in crime rates to record lows, a rise in the prison population to record highs, or neither. (After peaking in the 2000s, the prison population has begun to fall; crime rates continue to decline as well.) What most scholars and policymakers can’t do—but I can—is demonstrate how the crime bill has affected life on the inside of the American prison.

In prisons, two policies in particular, both enacted as part of the law, created a culture of ignorance, violence, and hopelessness. First, a ban on incarcerated individuals receiving Pell Grants led to the removal of most of the college programs—which once numbered more than 770—that were operating in nearly 1,300 facilities nationwide. Second, “truth in sentencing” policies offered states up to $10 billion to build new prisons, on the condition that they restructure sentencing laws to keep violent offenders in prison for at least 85 percent of their sentence, without regard for the individual’s behavior or rehabilitation efforts.

In the years that followed, prison schoolhouses emptied and prison yards filled. Gang activity and violence within the prisons increased. TV watching proliferated, enervating prisoners and their creative development. In effect, the crime bill achieved one of the traditional goals of incarceration: to incapacitate prisoners.

In 2015, U.S. Department of Education administrators, realizing the harm caused to prisoners by the removal of Pell Grants, created a new program called the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, a three- to five-year pilot program offering some prisoners an education. Now, 67 educational institutions serve 12,000 incarcerated students in state and federal prisons annually. The program has recently been expanded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Even though the total education debt of Americans—$1.5 trillion—is more than what they owe on their credit cards or auto loans, there’s still a lot of support for the Restoring Education and Learning Act (REAL Act), which would lift the 25-year-old ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants. Even the National District Attorneys Association, representing the prosecutors who put us here, supports the REAL Act. Many top Democrat presidential candidates—including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris—have also signed on to sponsor it. Even Joe Biden, the author of the original crime bill, has said in a campaign speech that he would extend Pell Grants to prisoners, though he hasn’t commented directly on the REAL Act.

In 2016, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, allotted almost $7.5 million from the state’s criminal-forfeiture funds for college classes in prison. Private funders matched the amount. While New York’s prisons are again starting to thrive when it comes to higher education, most incarcerated people serving time across America aren’t as fortunate as I’ve been.

A 2019 report by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality said a full repeal of the Pell Grant provision of the 1994 crime bill could make hundreds of thousands of prisoners eligible for higher education. Recidivism rates would likely decline, too, according to the report, saving states a combined $365.8 million per year. With an education, formerly incarcerated people will likely find better-paying jobs, resulting in a $45.3 million increase in combined earnings during the first year after leaving prison.

It’s impossible to understand the potential impact of reinstating Pell Grants without seeing how much was lost after they were taken away. Many prisoners will soon be returning to society, as they reach the end of their sentences. Because I have benefited from a few rare opportunities and learned my craft, I know that I will be all right when I get out. I don’t know if Twist will.

Read Full Article Here.

This article is part of our project “The Presence of Justice,” which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

JOHN J. LENNON is currently serving a sentence of 28 years to life at Sing Sing. He is a contributing editor for Esquire and a contributing writer for The Marshall Project.

October 31, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Moving from Prison to a PhD

From: https://www.nature.com

Nature spoke to three US researchers who have built academic careers after they were released.

Most applications to academic institutions around the world include a box to check if a student has a criminal history, but a ‘ban the box’ movement is now under way. Last year, the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) — which manages application to all British universities — dropped its criminal-history question. And in August, the US Common Application, used by 800 colleges and universities, removed the question — although indvidual institutions can still ask it.

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation1, a think tank in Santa Monica, California, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education programmes were 43% less likely to return to prison after release than were those who did not.

Although 2.3 million people are currently in US prisons, fewer than 5% of people get university degrees — making them 8 times less likely to complete their education than the general public. Fewer still pursue PhDs. Nature spoke to three US researchers who went from prison to PhD programmes to senior posts in academia, and who now aim to help others to find their academic footing.

CHRIS BEASLEY: Connecting former convicts

Post-prison education researcher at the University of Washington, Tacoma

Christopher Beasley

STANLEY ANDRISSE: Create pathways

Endocrinologist at Howard University, Washington DC

Stanley Andrisse

NOEL VEST: Value lived experience

Postdoc at Stanford University, California

Noel Adam Vest

October 28, 2019
by Eric Pereira

It’s Time for Congress to Lift the Ban on Pell Grants for People in Prison

From: https://thehill.com

Education is transformative. Access to postsecondary education, in particular, equips students with the skills they need to succeed in life and contribute to their local communities. But too many people are barred from accessing postsecondary education – including many people in prisons who are eventually released, as 90 percent of incarcerated people are, and find themselves reentering communities without the competitive skills and qualifications necessary for good-paying jobs.

The end result? Too many formerly incarcerated people fall into dangerous cycles of poverty, crime and recidivism. When people struggle with reentry, the devastating impact is often felt far beyond their families: There’s a cost to taxpayers as the ripples are felt across our correctional, public safety and even child welfare services.

We know from firsthand experience the importance of increasing access to postsecondary education for the greatest number of people in prison as possible. As the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections – a state that participates in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative so that more people in our prisons can attain education – and as a formerly incarcerated person whose life was transformed through access to education after prison, we understand the urgency behind this issue as well as the importance of lawmakers seizing this opportunity to expand access to Pell Grants.

According to research from the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, 64 percent of people in federal and state prisons are eligible to enroll in postsecondary education. A study from RAND, first conducted in 2013 and updated in 2018, found that access to postsecondary education in prison can reduce recidivism by up to 48 percent.

Read Full Article Here.

John Wetzel is the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Dr. Stanley Andrisse, MBA, PhD, is an endocrinologist scientist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, a faculty member at Howard University, and the Executive Director of From Prison Cells to PhD.

September 23, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Princeton Prison Teaching Initiative awarded NSF grant to promote STEM careers

From: https://www.princeton.edu

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 internships, including hands-onresearch opportunities at top-tier research universities, for formerly incarcerated people;
  • The development of a national model for expanding vital STEM programming into existing prison education programs;
  • Career and educationalreadiness workshops for STEM careers; and
  • Development of STEM mentorship and professional networks for returning citizens.

STEM-OPS will also advance knowledge of how to provide incarcerated youth with pathways to STEM education and careers.

Read Full Article Here.

By Prison Teaching Initiative, Princeton University

September 6, 2019
by Eric Pereira

Prison-to-Prosperity Pipeline

From: https://news.camden.rutgers.edu

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

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.”

Read Full Article Here.

By Tom McLaughlin


July 10, 2019
by Eric Pereira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.



by Marie-Rose Sheinerman / The Daily Princetonian

March 5, 2019
by Eric Pereira

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

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.



January 31, 2019
by Administrator

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, 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.”


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