Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons

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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 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 Importance In Mental Health for Formerly Incarcerated

From: https://news.rutgers.edu

The study, published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, found that former offenders, 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.”


October 18, 2018
by Administrator

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

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.


June 18, 2018
by Eric Pereira

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.


Read Full Article Here.


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

April 29, 2018
by Eric Pereira

The Crime of Being Poor and Black

From: https://www.truthdig.com

NEWARK, N.J.—This is the story of Emmanuel Mervilus, who got locked up for a crime he did not commit, whose life was derailed and nearly destroyed by the experience and who will graduate this spring from Rutgers University. It is a story of being a poor black man in America, with the exception being that most poor black men never get a second chance.

The only reason Mervilus got a second chance was because of one man, history professor Don Roden, who founded the Mountainview Program at Rutgers for formerly incarcerated students. This program accepts, among others, the students I teach in prison, one of whom, Ron Pierce, also will graduate this spring.

There are only a few saints in this world. Professor Roden is one.

Read Full Article Here.

Written by Chris Hedges.


Emmanuel Mervilus, who will graduate soon from Rutgers after being in prison, speaks in Newark, N.J., at an event sponsored by the Mountainview Program, which fosters education among those who have been incarcerated. (Mountainview Program)


November 7, 2016
by Eric Pereira

NJ-STEP Professor Awarded The Chancellor’s Award for Excellence

From: https://rutgersclassics.com/


Here’s another great Rutgers Classics first. Honored in the inaugural group of seven recipients of Rutgers New Brunswick’s important new faculty award—the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence—is Associate Professor in Classics Emily Allen-Hornblower.

In a ceremony Tuesday 4 October 2016, Chancellor Richard L. Edwards recognized Professor Allen-Hornblower in the category of Excellence in Service.

In presenting the award, Edwards cited “her heartfelt conviction that the Classics are of significance to people in all life situations and her dedication to bringing her scholarship beyond the university classroom to new audiences through her participation in the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons program (NJ-STEP)”.

Emily Allen-Hornblower has taken her teaching talents outside Rutgers’ classrooms, in an unusually visceral way. In November 2014 she spotted a feature in Rutgers Today about an ex-inmate and university student, Christopher Etienne, who managed to receive his undergraduate degree in large part through the help of Rutgers’ innovative Mountainview Program. It was then that Emily was inspired by the idea of being able to teach currently incarcerated inmates.

This led to her involvement with NJ-STEP, an association of colleges and universities that provide college courses for inmates and assist in their transition to college life upon release from prison.

Read Full Article Here.



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