The University’s Center for Prison Education (CPE) received a four-year $1 million grant on Tuesday. The significant boost in funding will allow the program to expand its efforts to provide inmates in the state’s correctional facilities with postsecondary educational opportunities.

The program will use the money to invest in new technology resources, higher stipends for faculty, more advanced courses, and a new program coordinator to facilitate collaboration between the University, Middlesex Community College, and the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

Over the past eight years, CPE has worked with over 250 undergraduate student volunteers and 40 University faculty to offer 99 courses and serve over 129 incarcerated students. The center provides individuals at Cheshire Correctional Institution and York Correctional Institution with access to courses, helping them earn associate’s degrees through Middlesex Community College or accumulate credits that can later contribute to a degree. These credits have benefits in helping prisoners get back on their feet after prison, but the program’s aim is broader than jobs.

“We believe in education for education’s sake,” the Center’s Program Manager Noah Barth said in an interview with The Argus. “And that there’s an inherent value in the education of an individual and that value can manifest and is worthy whether they’re inside or outside. We’ve seen the positive impacts of a liberal arts education on our students in terms of their own personal development as well as the communities they’re apart of—both inside and beyond prison walls.”

The grant was awarded by the Mellon Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that has awarded over $6.42 billion in grants and currently oversees a $6.2 billion endowment. Other than a four-year life cycle, the grant does not come with restrictions on how it can be used within the program. While the money was awarded under the umbrella of advancing higher education and scholarship in the humanities, the foundation also supports their mission with grants for scholarly communications, international higher education and strategic projects, diversity, and arts and cultural heritage.

“The Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies,” the mission statement on the Mellon Foundation’s website reads. “To this end, we support exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.”

Barth explained that the CPE supports the Mellon Foundation’s mission by providing opportunities for human development and meaningful contributions to the scholarship community.

“It furthers the mission and the cause of higher education writ large,” Barth said. “It brings more people to the academic conversation who previously lacked that access.”

Barth reiterated the importance of the liberal arts in providing education to the population of incarcerated people.

“You don’t ask a student on Wesleyan’s campus to say, ‘How did your education translate into a job specifically?’ as the sole primary measure of their education,” he said. “A cornerstone of the program since its founding is to replicate the Wesleyan educational experience as closely as possible within the confines of the prison.”

The program aims to expand its course offerings at intermediate and advanced levels in an effort to better mirror the education that University students enjoy through majors and minors.

CPE also plans on increasing the stipend it provides the faculty teaching the courses.

“We think this will help with recruitment and retention of the best quality faculty over time,” Barth said.

The Mellon Foundation has a rich history of supporting programs at the University. The foundation has awarded over fifty grants to Wesleyan historically, according to its website. Aside from donations, the program was previously supported by $600,000 in grants from the Ford Foundation, which expired in 2018.

Students who volunteer with the Center were excited to expand on an already successful program.

“I feel like we’re really getting somewhere which is really satisfying,” said Anna Bruckner ’20, who volunteers as a research assistant. “It’s been really great.”

“The Center for Prison Education is a wonderful example of the commitment by Wesleyan students and faculty to serving our broader community through the transformative power of the liberal arts,” University President Michael Roth’78 told the Wesleyan Newsletter. “CPE has made a powerful difference in the lives of incarcerated people—one I’ve seen firsthand when I’ve lectured at the Cheshire prison.”

 

This article was amended to correct the name of a prison. It is York Correctional Institution, not York County Prison.

Mason Mandell can be reached at mjmandell@wesleyan.edu and on Twitter @MasonMandell.

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