Giving Compass' Take:

• Research from the Vera Institute of Justice reveals that education access in prisons has benefits for prisoner outcomes and is cost-effective. 

• How can funders help to advance this type of intervention? What education options are currently available in prisons in your state? 

• Learn about California's prison education success

Education has the capacity to transform. Education opens pathways to new futures. Education is freedom. That these benefits have been denied to people who are incarcerated, whose need for them affects us all, points to shortsighted public policies and the critical importance of a project like Unlocking Potential: Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education (Pathways).

The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) launched the project in 2012. Supported by five national foundations, Pathways gave colleges and state corrections agencies in Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina the means to offer programs in prison and build reentry pathways that would keep participating students engaged in education after they left prison and began the difficult work of rebuilding their lives. During the five years of the project, Vera and its college and corrections partners piloted numerous strategies to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students in their pursuit of higher education and laid the groundwork for a rigorous outcome evaluation.

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.