We are convinced that higher education has a critical role to play in moving our country away from mass incarceration. In prison, college classes generate hope, direction, and purpose.
Access to higher education can improve the economic trajectories of families and communities. When one family member goes to college, others often follow. APBP has seen the impact of our book clubs on individuals as well as on their children, spouses, and loved ones.
Beyond these positive outcomes, educational programs also make prisons safer for those who live and work within them. Renaldo Hudson of the Illinois Prison Project talked to a graduate class about his time on death row, the importance of education, and what gives him hope.
After 37 years in prison, Renaldo was released in September 2020 and is now the Education Director at the Illinois Prison Project.
WVU Higher Education in Prison Initiative
The West Virginia University Higher Education in Prison Initiative promotes educational access and equity in the Appalachian region. This initiative developed from a long-standing partnership between West Virginia University (WVU) and APBP.
WVU has been offering Inside-Out Prison Exchange classes at state and federal prisons in West Virginia for over 15 years. In 2019–2020, for the first time, these classes were credit-bearing for all students. APBP paid costs for tuition and books for inside students.
Establishing credit-bearing classes with full financial support for incarcerated students opened up the possibility of a pathway to an associate degree program. APBP is now partnering with WVU to make this happen.
Here are the goals of the Initiative:
- Goal 1: Offer credit-bearing classes to incarcerated students and create a pathway to an Associate Degree
- Goal 2: Extend educational opportunities beyond the classrooms
- Goal 3: Seek out and develop leadership from people who have been directly impacted by the criminal punishment system
- Goal 4: Provide support to returning citizens who want to pursue higher education
- Goal 5: Integrate restorative practices and a commitment to racial justice into everyday operations
We are hopeful that classes will begin in Spring 2022.
In 2021, APBP created an education scholarship program for recently incarcerated students in West Virginia. Two $2,500 scholarships will be awarded to students who have been released from a WVDCR state prison or federal prison in WV and who will be starting or continuing their undergraduate or graduate education at a college or university in WV during the 2021–2022 academic year. Applications are due August 1, 2021.
Appalachian Community Think Tank
The Appalachian Community Think Tank (ACTT) was born out of a 2019 Inside-Out Justice in Literature course consisting of West Virginia University undergraduates and incarcerated students at a Pennsylvania prison. Following the class, the inside members and outside facilitators came together to form ACTT in January 2020.
Although the group is new, it is passionate about the power of literature.
To keep in touch and stay connected during COVID-19, when prisons are closed to visitors, we have created a temporary newsletter featuring content from inside and outside members.
Educational Justice and Appalachian Prisons Symposium
The Educational Justice and Appalachian Prisons Symposium, held in 2014, brought together people interested in higher education in prison, restorative justice, re-entry initiatives, and prison book projects. Funded by a West Virginia Humanities Council grant and co-coordinated by APBP and the West Virginia University Department of English, the three-day symposium enriched attendees’ understanding of issues affecting Appalachian prisons and prepared them to implement action plans related to educational justice.