ITHAKA has received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a research and development initiative focused on improving access to higher education for incarcerated students.

Increasingly, media and congressional attention has focused on post-secondary education in prison programs as an important aspect of mitigating the impact of mass incarceration in the United States. These discussions about education in prison have expanded to include questions about the quality of education being provided in these programs, such as the need to provide library resources to incarcerated students as part of high-quality education. ITHAKA aims to contribute to these discussions, and ultimately to improve prison programs, by providing insights and recommendations about how higher education in U.S. prisons can be improved and by piloting mechanisms for improving access to library resources essential for post-secondary teaching and learning.

During the 18-month long project, the Ithaka S+R team will first review the landscape of post-secondary prison education programs and research on these programs to date, publishing a public summary report. They will then conduct original research with educators, former students, and other stakeholders in the field. This original research will articulate the pedagogical supports necessary to maximize student success and identify the challenges and opportunities for scaling post-secondary education in prison programming.

Concurrently, the JSTOR Labs team will collaborate with a small cohort of prison programs to pilot new, creative mechanisms to make the published scholarly literature on JSTOR available for use in prison education, with the goal of empowering students to learn how to conduct independent research and supporting faculty to design and teach courses in prisons. This work will take into account unique challenges such as restrictions on internet access and seek to develop solutions that can scale across prison facilities.

“Higher education can play an important role in transforming lives by providing skills needed to transition back into society and conferring positive impacts on families,” said Kevin Guthrie, ITHAKA’s president. “Through this initiative, we will work to be a catalyst for growing the impact of post-secondary education in prison programs and ensuring that students and the faculty who work with them have the support they need to pursue their studies, including access to the academic resources. This program promises not only to improve and enhance the learning opportunities for these individuals, but it will also deliver positive economic and social outcomes for society.”

The project launched in January 2019 and will continue through the first half of 2020.