NJ-STEP

Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons

October 18, 2018
by Administrator
0 comments

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
0 comments

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.

 

February 26, 2016
by Derek
0 comments

President Obama visits Rutgers University–Newark to Promote Improvements in Criminal Justice

“I’ve spoken to men and women who are part of programs like NJ-STEP here at Rutgers–Newark,” President Obama said. “You’re giving prisoners a chance to start taking college courses before their release so that they can re-enter society with marketable skills.”

A recent Rutgers Magazine feature shares details on a recent visit from President Barack Obama, including a roundtable discussion he hosted featuring participants from NJ STEP.

Photography: Shelly Kusnetz

September 16, 2015
by Derek
0 comments

RU-Newark Welcomes Its First Cohort of NJ-STEP Students

This fall Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) welcomes its first cohort of 10 students whose college careers began through 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 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 they are college-ready and eager to improve their lives.

Full article here: RU-N Welcomes Its First Cohort of NJ-STEP Students

September 15, 2015
by Derek
0 comments

Rutgers Expands Opportunities for Former Inmates

Rutgers is expanding its program that helps transform lives by giving former prisoners a chance to earn a college degree.

Since its inception in 2005, the Mountainview program has enrolled 100 former inmates at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. They have graduated at a rate of 73.3 percent – slightly below the university’s six-year graduation rate of 77 percent for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. The program’s graduates have an overall 3.1 grade point average, with one former inmate having attained a perfect 4.0.

Twenty-five have earned bachelor’s degrees, five have earned master’s degrees and 49 remain active students.

Full article here: The Mountainview program comes to Newark