Improving higher education in prisons

ITHAKA supports justice-impacted individuals, empowering them to improve their lives by increasing access to high-quality higher education programs and library resources in prisons.

Through our research and active engagement with the justice-impacted community and the organizations that support it, we aspire to see more students learn and earn degrees while in prison. We also hope to spark wider discussion about mass incarceration, inequities in the system, and to advocate for the power of education to change people’s lives.

Initiatives

Increasing access to learning materials in prisons

To get an equitable, quality education, justice-impacted students require access to library and educational materials. This material is seldom available on the inside, due largely to lack of technology and internet access, precluding students from having the materials they need and developing the research skills that are a vital component of a postsecondary education.

Building off work that began in 2007 when the Bard Prison Initiative asked JSTOR to provide an offline index of the archive to its students, JSTOR Labs is now creating a more robust, next-generation tool to support incarcerated students conducting research without access to the internet. Additionally, we have begun a pilot project to design and test a version of JSTOR that can be accessed directly by students, for use in states where limited internet access is available. Using these offline and direct access solutions, our goal is to make JSTOR freely available to all US higher education in prison programs.

Producing research to guide programs and policy

Higher education in prison is at a critical juncture. With the restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated students and a strong and growing cohort of college- and university-affiliated programs, there is a sharpened national focus on the intersection of systemic racism, mass incarceration, and the pursuit of educational equity. Our research focuses on ensuring that incarcerated adults are afforded the opportunity to receive a high-quality education that leads to positive outcomes.

Deepening public understanding

By bringing previously unheard voices of justice-impacted individuals into college and high school classrooms, into our libraries, and into public discourse, we are promoting learning and dialogue.

Our American Prison Newspapers: 1880-2020 project, led by our Reveal Digital team, is digitizing hundreds of newspapers published in US prisons over the past 200 years and making them openly accessible online. The resulting collection will be preserved by our Portico team, which manages the long-term preservation of digital content at scale, including significant historical newspaper collections. We are also adding a Fellow to our Reveal Digital team to produce supporting materials for teaching with this primary source collection, and a new JSTOR Daily editor will also commission articles designed to highlight individual newspapers and improve our collective understanding of mass incarceration.

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We invite the broader community to learn about our work, use our resources, and connect with us.