Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons

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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.


July 2, 2018
by Eric Pereira

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.

Read Full Article Here.


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

June 1, 2018
by Eric Pereira

Students Launch Listing Service for Rutgers Off Campus Housing

Four former Rutgers students have launched a web-based service called Afito to help students search for off campus housing around New Brunswick, Highland Park, and Piscataway. The website, which can be found at www.afito.com, lists more than 250 off campus houses and apartments.

Afito features an easy to use user interface that juxtaposes rental listings alongside a map of the area. Users can easily browse listings that are in proximity to their desired location around one of Rutgers New Brunswick’s four main campuses. Students can use Afito’s filters to search Rutgers apartments and houses by attributes like number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, maximum occupancy, and price. Once a desirable listing is found, users can view a short description and photos of the property. They can then contact the landlord, property manager, or apartment leasing office via a phone call or an email.

The Afito team reviews every property owner or manager who lists their rental on the website. Over 100 landlords have already signed up and are using the service to fill their vacancies. Listings on the website range from rooms for rent and summer sublets to apartments in high-rise buildings.

In the future, the Afito team hopes to add a roommate finder and sublet search function to further improve students’ off campus experience. Property management tools such as electronic lease signing, online rent payments, are also on the development roadmap. The team has plans to expand the service to other schools in New Jersey, including Rutgers Newark, NJIT, Rutgers Camden, Rowan University, TCNJ, Montclair State University, Rider University, Monmouth University, Seton Hall University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and beyond.

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.



February 26, 2016
by Derek

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

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

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

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