College Behind Bars
The involvement of colleges and universities in the provision of higher education opportunities in prison has reemerged after a long pause following the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, which effectively ended the majority of postsecondary prison education programs. The 2016 Second Chance Pell Program has been instrumental in the development and expansion of higher education opportunities in prison. Support for justice reform measures has led to the likely full restoration of Pell Grant availability in prisons, taking effect as early as 2023, with funding for the initiative included in the most recent congressional stimulus bill. Both Second Chance Pell and one of the most progressive state-level prison education policies, New York’s Right Priorities initiative, rely almost exclusively on positioning higher education in prison as a tool for meeting the market needs of the state: reduced recidivism equating to taxpayer savings. This dissertation extends prior research examining the pitfalls of justifications overly reliant on narratives of recidivism. Using a three-article approach, it explores justifications capable of articulating the full moral vigor necessary to sustain long-term commitments to such policies and programs, ones that prioritize humanized responses to incarceration. The first article amplifies justifications articulated by those who have been the beneficiaries of such educational opportunities, investigating formerly incarcerated student perspectives on the value, meaning, and purpose of such programs. The second article, by focusing on policy developments within the state of New York, examines how the rhetoric of recidivism emerges in media coverage of both federal and state level support for college-level prison education. And, finally, the third article considers the pedagogical implications of adjusting the lens through which programs are defended, exploring the use of andragogical teaching methods—those associated with the tenets of adult education—in the context of prison classrooms. Taken together, each study contributes to literatures examining justifications for higher education in prison, and develops deeper understandings of the need for the provision of such opportunities.