The Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison is a key initiative of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and The Educational Justice Institute at MIT (TEJI) chaired by Drs. Lee Perlman and Michael K. Thomas.
The Commission’s work addresses three key truths. While research demonstrates that postsecondary prison education programs are the single best way to reduce recidivism and improve local economies, demand for prison education programs far exceeds existing programs’ capacity to serve the 202,000 justice-involved individuals in New England. Meanwhile, formerly incarcerated individuals are less likely than their peers to be employed due to hiring stigma and a lack of industry-recognized credentials upon release, even as many New England states face labor shortages. Additionally, it is clear and documented that the majority of justice involved individuals become incarcerated as a result of societal inequities including disparate education. These challenges require policymakers, departments of correction, higher education institutions, business leaders and formerly and currently incarcerated individuals to come together to maximize the region’s human capital potential, ensure workforce productivity, and improve justice-impacted residents’ and families’ well-being and generational success.
While the Commission’s origins are regional, it seeks to catalyze a national initiative and assume a broader leadership role in the United States.
The Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison will develop an action agenda, policy recommendations, strategies and next steps to align institutions, policymakers, prisons, and industry to increase the life and career readiness of formerly incarcerated people—and facilitate their successful transitions to work and sustained contributions to the well-being and competitiveness of the region and nation. The Commission will deliver a final report with recommendations for higher education leaders, policymakers, departments of correction and employers in 2023 ahead of the re-release of Pell grants to all incarcerated students.
Accordingly, key areas for investigation and deliberation by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison include:
Credential Completion and Time to Degree
- Scaling access and credential completion despite transfer and release (two of the greatest impediments to degree completion)
- Integrating credential pathways across institutions and the use of technology/remote education delivery, a successful method during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Program and policy innovations to address timely completion of degrees, including post-release
- Providing comprehensive access to both liberal arts, STEM and CTE training depending on the incarcerated student’s skills and interest.
Labor Market Success and Upward Socioeconomic Mobility
- Engaging business leaders, including those that employ large numbers of previously incarcerated individuals, to address stigma surrounding the employability of justice-involved people and to identify strategies to increase hiring of individuals who start or complete a degree behind bars
- Previously and currently incarcerated people will be members of the committee to increase understanding of employment needs and experiences of justice-involved individuals
- Program and support service improvements to provide better career counseling and post-release “learn and earn” models to support students’ workplace and economic success.
Members of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison will have the opportunity to join one of four unique Working Groups, each with a specific focus in an area relevant to the prison education and employment systems. Working groups will convene remotely four times over the course of the Commission.