The Center for Prison Education (CPE) recently received a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to support the prolongation of the program.
In 2009, the CPE was established by students who had spent their time at the University engaged in prison activism. Through the program, prisoners at the Cheshire and York Correctional Institutions are provided the opportunity to apply to take accredited Wesleyan courses taught by faculty members from the University.
Prison Education Program Manager Dara Young explained that there used to be over three hundred prison reform programs; since 1994, the majority of the programs have shut down. The CPE is part of the second wave of emerging, privately-funded programs.
“Prison reform has been a marginal issue [for a long time],” Young said. “Not only has prison reform started to come to the floor as a national conversation, but college in prison has also become part of [conversation]. Not only are people starting to care about [prison reform], but [people are realizing] that education is a key component of it.”
Through the program, faculty members at the University are responsible for teaching a class of 36 students. The incarcerated students participating in the CPE receive a comprehensive curriculum, including courses in the humanities and social sciences. The student inmates work with University students as well. These student volunteers act as writing tutors, teaching assistants, and peers.
“I think the CPE is a wonderful program fulfilling an important mission,” said Professor of English Sean McCann, who teaches at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. “I believe it provides a vital service to student inmates and that it offers profound opportunities to Wesleyan faculty and students to deepen their understanding of liberal education.”
Young explained that, because the CPE is a privately funded organization, the program is very grateful for the recent grant.
“We exist only by the people who support us,” Young said. “Without funding from different places and individual donors, as well as small foundations, we would not exist.”
CPE Fellow Zachary Fischman ’13 explained that the CPE applied for the grant in late 2013. He noted the significance of the monetary contribution.
“[CPE] chose to apply for a grant from the Ford Foundation because the foundation had recently assembled a task force whose purpose is to fund initiatives that seek to offer post-secondary education inside of prison walls,” Fischman said. “Access to post-secondary education in prison has a dramatic effect on reducing recidivism rates.“
Young explained that the Ford Foundation’s grant is a general operating grant that will be responsible for funding the program as a whole, rather than be used for a specific project. She expressed her gratitude for working with the CPE.
“The most fun part for me is getting to spend time with incarcerated students who are very intelligent, intellectually curious, engaging, and endlessly interested in anything you know about or have to say,” Young said. “They are really fun people and great to hang out with. That is the part that I think about, and it keeps the job fun.”
Fischman added that this funding will help maintain and enhance the positive qualities of the CPE.
“This support comes at a critical time for our program, as we continue to offer exciting academic programming at Cheshire and York Correctional Institutions,” Fischman said.
Young added that the biggest impact of the grant is acknowledging the CPE for its efforts.
“I think it is an amazing recognition of the work that has been done over the past five years,” Young said. “It puts us in a position to not only continue what we have been doing, but to do it even better. We can bring more resources to our students, strengthen the reentry piece of our program, and continue to do what we do, and do it even better to meet the needs of our students given the circumstances we are in.”
McCann expressed his excitement about the grant.
“I am proud that Wesleyan offers the CPE, and I’m thrilled that the Ford Foundation has awarded the program a major grant,” McCann said. “I think the grant will enable the program to grow while continuing its current success.”