Director of the Emerson Prison Initiative and Marlboro Institute associate professor Mneesha Gellman writes for the academic news site The Conversation about the three types of prison education offered in the U.S., as the Second Chance Pell Grant program broadens beginning July 1, 2023.
The three types are high school equivalency and vocational programs run by departments of correction. The second is educational non-credit-bearing programs offered by outside volunteer organizations, such as gardening clubs or Toastmasters. Third are credit-bearing degree programs run by outside colleges and universities, like mine.
In my experience, many prison educators are dedicated to the transformational power of education, just like their college-in-prison counterparts.
However, another small but I believe important difference is that prison-run programs typically refer to incarcerated students as “prisoners” or “inmates,” continuing Department of Correction language choice. In contrast, programs like the Emerson Prison Initiative refer to the people we work with as “students,” “applicants” or “students who are incarcerated.” This language treats incarcerated students with respect and dignity, which I’ve argued is central to student success and well-being.
The expansion of Pell Grants to more incarcerated people offers an opportunity to make college in prison more available while also maintaining best practices in this rapidly growing field. Such practices include little things, like the labels we use to refer to students, and big things, like ensuring that those who draw Pell Grants enroll in rigorous programs where they get a quality education and earn a degree.