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

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A biweekly newsletter about the future of postsecondary education in prisons. By Charlotte West.

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

  • Twenty women at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility will be part of Colorado’s first bachelor’s degree program at a women’s facility. Serena Ahmad will also become the first incarcerated woman in the U.S. to teach incarcerated students. Copublished with our partner Chalkbeat Colorado
  • Richard McConnell is out of prison after he was featured in a recent story we copublished with WBEZ. We showed he was eligible for early release under a new Illinois state law that allows some incarcerated people to earn time off their sentences for taking part in education or work. Up to 1000 others may also be eligible for release under the law but are still in prison. 
  • We published a one-page info sheet about the Education Department’s recent decision to allow incarcerated borrowers to consolidate student loans. The last day to apply for Fresh Start to get out of default is September 30. 
  • The PDF of the March/April issue of College Inside is now available. 

‘A culture shift’ as Colorado starts its first bachelor’s degree program at a women’s prison

Twenty women at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility will be part of a new bachelor’s degree program later this month. 

Students in the program, run by Adams State University, will be able to choose between a sociology or business track. The program gives a unique opportunity to women in the state, something that educators and correctional staff say they hope to see more of. Women make up 8% of Colorado’s incarcerated population but this is the first four-year degree available in the state’s prisons for women.

The program is also unique in the country because of one of its new professors. 

Serena Ahmad, who holds a law degree from University of Denver and is serving a 14-year sentence at Denver Women’s, will be teaching in the program, making her the first incarcerated woman in the U.S. to teach as an adjunct professor at a women’s facility. Ahmad will teach a course in business law this summer. In the future, she’ll also be teaching criminology. 

She’s excited about the opportunity, but gets anxious when she hears someone say the word “first.” 

“Being the first of anything is always going to have a unique pressure, and that what I do is going to reflect on every single woman that follows me,” she told Open Campus during a video interview on Zoom. “The nervousness comes when I sit down and think about it. But when the greater goal is the success of incarcerated women and minority women, that sounds far more motivating than my fear or nervousness.”

Read the full story

Related: 
++ Colorado becomes one of the first to employ an incarcerated professor
++ After his release from a Colorado prison, David Carrillo continues to educate students on the inside
++ A look inside Colorado’s prison radio

From web to work: How a tech ed program helps people prepare to leave prison

Photo courtesy of the researchers

Last week, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Massachusetts Lowell published the results of a two-year study of Brave Behind Bars, MIT’s web design program for incarcerated students. Taught inside six U.S. prisons, the college-accredited computer science and career-readiness course was designed to foster digital literacy, develop self-efficacy and promote successful reintegration into society and the workplace.

The qualitative study evaluated the effects of teaching HTML and JavaScript to incarcerated students, highlighting a notable increase in their self-confidence and digital competencies — key factors in reducing recidivism, or the rate at which people who are released return to prison. 

Read the full story by Ryan Moser. 

Related: 
++ An engineer bought a prison laptop on eBay. Then 1,200 incarcerated students lost their devices.
++‘How getting access to a computer changed my education in prison—and my future.’

News and views

Shutterstock

The Florida state legislature passed a bill that establishes that Florida residents will not lose their residency status for in-state tuition purposes just because they are incarcerated. The final version stripped out language that would have allowed people to establish residency while incarcerated, which Open Campus previously reported on as a major barrier to higher education inside Florida prisons. The previous version would have also allowed people to use expired documentation to prove residency, WUFT reported. It’s unclear what effect, if any, the final version bill will have on increasing access to higher education in Florida prisons. The bill will go into effect July 1 if signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Almost a year after incarcerated students once again became eligible for Pell Grants, only one prison education program has officially been approved by the federal Education Department. Still, officials from state corrections agencies in Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin told Stateline that since Pell dollars became available, more colleges and universities have become interested in establishing prison education programs, reported Amanda Hernandez. Utah and Nebraska have also recently announced an expansion of their prison education programs.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance published new data showing that recidivism rates have been declining in the majority of states since the Second Chance Act, which authorized federal investment in strategies to keep people from going back to prison, was passed in 2008. State-level reincarceration rates are down 23% since 2008 and 35 states have experienced a reduction in reincarceration.

new study from the RAND Corporation on the effects of COVID-19 on prison education showed that as late as 2023, instruction continued to be interrupted in different prison facilities because of new outbreaks of COVID-19 and staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic. One of the most lasting changes as a result of the pandemic is the acceleration of the adoption of educational technology and the move toward hybrid and online learning for this population.

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.