A biweekly newsletter about the future of postsecondary education in prisons. Written by Open Campus national reporter Charlotte West.

Short on time? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Georgia State University is shutting down the prison education program it’s operated since 2016, citing federal government rules for the return of Pell Grants as a primary reason for its decision.
  • An incarcerated educator was fired from his teaching job at an Illinois prison after arguing with a prison counselor about whether he could teach students that Jim Crow literacy tests were racist. Copublished with WBEZ.
  • A state senator is the first lawmaker in Illinois — and likely the country — to offer a legislative internship behind bars. Copublished with WBEZ.

Why Georgia’s largest university is ending college programs at three prisons

Georgia State University is blaming federal government rules for the return of Pell Grants as a primary reason for its decision to close its prison education program this summer.

The program won’t admit any new students but the university said it has a plan to help currently enrolled students at two state prisons finish their programs, which could take up to two years. 

Officials cited the administrative challenges of securing federal financial aid, as well as a $24 million budget shortfall, as factors leading to its decision to halt classes at three correctional facilities, according to a statement sent to Open Campus. The program has been operating since 2016. 

Read the full story here

An incarcerated teacher taught his students that Jim Crow literacy tests were racist. Then he got fired.

A page from the curriculum material used in a prison civics education class that is now part of a federal lawsuit. Courtesy Christina Rivers

An incarcerated educator was fired from his teaching job at an Illinois prison after arguing with a prison counselor about whether he could teach students that literacy tests given to voters during the Jim Crow era were a racist attempt to suppress the Black vote.

Now the instructor, Anthony McNeal, is suing in federal court, claiming the counselor and the prison warden violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

McNeal was teaching a peer-led civics class the state is required to provide for people exiting prison at Centralia Correctional Center in southern Illinois.

“This case is about a prisoner, a Black man who was teaching about the history of racism in the South and the suppression of Black votes, who got fired for telling the truth,” said McNeal’s attorney, Alan Mills.

Read the full story here

Shaping policy from behind bars

From left: Raúl Dorado, Abdul “Malik” Muhammad, Lynn Green, Illinois State Senator Rachel Ventura, Joseph Dole and Eric Watkins pose together inside Stateville Correctional Center. Courtesy Rachel Ventura’s office.

When Rachel Ventura was running for the Illinois State Senate in 2022, she agreed to meet with a group of incarcerated men interested in public policy.

The men were ready for her. They wanted to know if this was more than a one-time, politically opportunistic visit. Would she ever come back? If she won, would she consider them her constituents? 

And they had a proposal: Hire someone like us as an intern.

The following spring, Ventura, a Democrat, became the first state senator in Illinois — and likely the country — to offer a legislative internship behind bars. 

“The incarcerated community is perhaps the largest group of people who are impacted by policy they have absolutely no say in,” said Raul Dorado, one of Ventura’s current interns. 

Read the full story here. 

Related coverage: ++ Colorado becomes one of the first to hire an incarcerated professor
++ ‘Incarcerated people are rarely hired for outside jobs. A teaching gig changed my life.’
++‘We need more high-impact learning practices in prison.’

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Indiana: Formerly incarcerated residents of Indianapolis are navigating life after prison thanks to ELEVATE, a program at Ivy Tech Community College, reports Claire Rafford for our local partner Mirror Indy. The program helps formerly and currently incarcerated people enroll in classes, find jobs and get support with everything from mental health counseling to financial assistance. 

In case you missed it

Let’s connect

Please connect if you have story ideas or just want to share your experience with prison education programs as a student or educator. You can always reach me at charlotte@opencampusmedia.org or on TwitterLinkedIn, or Instagram. To reach me via snail mail, you can write to: Open Campus, 2460 17th Avenue #1015, Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

We know that not everyone has access to email, so if you’d like to have a print copy College Inside sent to an incarcerated friend or family member, you can sign them up here. We also publish the PDFs of our print newsletter on the Open Campus website.

There is no cost to subscribe to the print edition of College Inside. But as a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on grants and donations to keep bringing you the news about prison education. You can also donate here.

Interested in reaching people who care about higher education in prisons? Get in touch at sales@opencampusmedia.org or request our media kit.

Open Campus national reporter covering the future of postsecondary education in prison.