We are a group of faculty members across disciplines at UMass who have been involved with prison education here in Western Massachusetts and elsewhere. We are building a
cohesive UMass program in which our faculty teach a variety of credit-bearing college courses in
local jails such as Hampshire County Jail, Franklin County Jail, Hampden County Correctional
Center, and the Western Mass. Regional Women’s Correctional Center, as well as creating a pathway from those jails to UMass.
A growing number of colleges and universities across the country are launching college-in-prison programs. This number is certain to rise now that the ban on Pell Grant funding for incarcerated students has finally been lifted. However, there are few post-secondary institutions that are directing resources to the creation of pathways for students to continue their education and complete their degrees after they have been released. Given the average length of sentences in jails near UMass, this second option would be most successful here. We believe that UMass-Amherst, with its commitment to diversity, equity, and access can be a pioneer in supporting post-secondary education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, both within jails and prisons and here on the UMass campus.
We are working on creating an Interdisciplinary Studies curriculum with at least one credit-bearing course per semester offered in one of the facilities in Western Mass (Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin, or Berkshire Counties). The provost has generously agreed to waive all tuition fees for our students there.
To create a pathway from the jails to UMass, our goals are as follow:
-to hire staff person/advisor to assist formerly incarcerated students with need-based aid applications (Pell Grants, for example) and other academic and support.
-to offer formerly incarcerated students financial support while at UMass through work-study employment and through a named scholarship (awarded competitively) for one formerly incarcerated student per year. This scholarship will cover tuition, fees, textbooks, room and board, caregiving funds, as needed.
-to facilitate application process for currently incarcerated students (by allowing hard copies of admissions documents, for example, and remove any questions regarding sentences)
-to hire a graduate student TA/TO/RA to support the administrative work of the initiative, to design and teach their own courses in the program, and/or to assist faculty in the classroom.
-to obtain course development funding to encourage faculty to develop multi-modal courses that will enroll incarcerated students.