Elements for Building a Higher Education in Prison Research Infrastructure

The framework for understanding a research infrastructure (RI) outlined earlier in this working paper is designed to help us think at a high-level about the interconnected network of relationships, agreements, and incentives that propel and sustain an RI. This section of the working paper applies that framework to elucidate the relationships, agreements, and incentives already in motion within the field of higher education in prison (HEP) in the US. While the field faces notable challenges, it nevertheless has a productive history and has experienced notable growth in the last decade, resulting in numerous elements of an HEP RI that may be drawn, expanded, and built upon in the pursuit of a distinct, unified, and sustainable RI. We gathered this information from desk research and literature from the field, direct input from a number of experts, and initial findings from our on-going systematic analysis of a database of empirical research studies evaluating HEP programs.1

It is important to note that this preliminary attempt to map the current elements of an HEP RI is inherently incomplete. For this reason, the entities and processes we describe next are illustrative of present elements of an HEP RI rather than comprehensive. Similarly, we are not endorsing any particular set of practices by including it in our overview. Rather, we present a descriptive snapshot of the landscape in order to help HEP stakeholders assess extant relationships, agreements, and incentives that might facilitate or further inform the formation of a field-generated RI. And last, the three overarching components of our conceptual RI framework are not clearly bounded categories into which elements of the HEP research community can be neatly assigned. Our framework’s concepts are necessarily connected: Relationships can foster incentives, incentives can force agreements, and agreements can form relationships.


Formal and informal relationships within and across different individual stakeholders, organizations, HEP programs, and funding or regulating governmental entities (among others) serve to connect and coordinate research-related efforts across the community. Relationships can also be used to develop and share resources, regulate practices, and push the field to question and revisit existing structures, processes, and relationships.

Relationships such as individual partnerships between programs and Departments of Corrections (DOCs), professional organizations within the HEP space, and existing research collaboratives provide the foundation for the relationships required for an RI for the HEP community. Cross-disciplinary collaboration, networks of professionals working within and across states and regions, and even journals for disseminating field-specific research have already been established in certain contexts and can be used as a starting point from which the field can design a fully-fledged RI. This section will highlight a few examples of extant relationships that currently facilitate research across the field of HEP.

As many practitioners in HEP continually stress, relationships are paramount to their work.2 Unlike other learning environments, prisons are heavily regulated settings with security measures that affect every aspect of HEP—from instructor entry to approved materials to classroom space and students’ ability to attend class. The relationships between HEP staff and corrections personnel are not only critical to how an HEP program is able to run inside, they are fundamental for conducting research about programs and students; these relationships can also be seen as one of the primary tensions in the field. For example, many state DOCs own the longitudinal data needed to perform any type of aggregate analysis on HEP and its outcomes. These agencies also oversee the approval processes for allowing any original research to be conducted upon their jurisdictional prison sites,3 including the IRBs necessary for granting permission to perform research activities like rigorous program evaluations.4 Some programs have been able to develop relationships with state DOCs that encourage empirical research. For example, Denison University’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program leveraged their relationship with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and its Southeastern Correctional Institution to create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) specifying Denison’s right to “conduct evaluations specific to measuring the impact the courses have on students” and guaranteeing that the university will “work closely with prison administrators” to that end. The MOU specifies that the university may assess course impact on participating students’ behavior in prison as well as possible outcomes for students after their release.5 Some researchers, such as John Nally from the Indiana DOC, have developed similar partnerships with other state-level organizations that facilitate empirical research on HEP. Developing similar relationships and being able to navigate the complexities and tension that arise between programs and DOCs will be critical to advancing HEP research nationwide.
Established professional organizations within HEP also serve as relationships upon which the field might build a self-sustaining RI, especially those whose missions are focused in part on the advancement of evaluation and data initiatives for the field at large. For instance, the Correctional Education Association (CEA) has undertaken various activities that contribute to an RI, including establishing accreditation processes to evaluate individual prisons and publishing an academic journal. The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (the Alliance) has also founded its own open-access, peer-reviewed journal and has contributed substantially to research in the field by conducting and publishing a comprehensive survey of HEP programs operating in the US and working to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. The Institutional Research Corrections Network focuses on research agendas and data sharing for state-level corrections researchers. The specific mission, approach, and work of each of these three organizations further illustrate what and how professional networks can contribute to the formation of a sustainable HEP RI, and are presented in the expandable sections below.

The Correctional Education Association (CEA) was established in 1930 to provide “leadership, direction, and services to correctional educators and institutional correctional education programs around the world.” As part of this mission, it has established several activities that fall under the umbrella of an RI, including the establishment of a Standards Commission that accredits individual prison programs through a self-governed evaluation process conducted by “certified CEA auditors who observe programs, interview staff and students, and review policies and procedures and documentation of implementation.”6 has also organized “an informal affiliation” of state and federal directors of correctional education, which “provides peer networking opportunities for persons responsible for the administration of educational programs in state prison systems, in state juvenile justice system schools, in federal correctional facilities and in schools within large jails/detention centers” in order to “more effectively assure that high quality educational opportunities are abundantly available to persons in correctional or juvenile confinement in the United States of America.” While CEA members who participate in these activities or attend one of its annual national and regional conferences might discuss strategies for driving evidence-based HEP practices, perhaps the Association’s most pertinent initiative in supporting an HEP RI is its management of the Journal of Correctional Education (JCE). JCE is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes “historical and academic research, best practices for educators in the field, and insights on current issues and legislative priorities.” Though it publishes research on a multitude of educational programs for incarcerated learners, our initial research indicates that it is currently the scholarly journal most likely to publish rigorous evaluations on HEP.7

The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (the Alliance) is a recently-established national network that also serves as an extant relationship upon which an HEP RI can grow. Focusing exclusively on HEP—rather than all educational programs within the carceral setting—the Alliance strives to foster “cross-disciplinary collaboration, networking, and resource sharing” and to produce knowledge about the field by “generating reliable data and metrics that demonstrate the need, importance, and value of quality in-prison higher education programs.” To further empirical research on postsecondary prison education, the Alliance conducted a comprehensive survey of HEP programs operating in the US and used responses to build the National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs. In December 2020, the Alliance published the initial results from this initiative in a summary report; created a searchable dashboard that invites users to interact with its research findings; built a document library containing dozens of resources to aid in program implementation and evaluation; and included a process for sharing the full dataset with independent researchers. As HEP programming continues to expand its reach within US prisons, AHEP recognizes the field’s need to similarly expand its body of research literature. The Alliance is currently establishing a peer-reviewed and open access academic journal to that end: Journal of Higher Education in Prison (JHEP). JHEP accepts “original manuscripts that will advance the empirical, theoretical, and methodological understanding of education and learning in the context of prisons, jails, detention centers and other facilities of confinement” and welcomes submissions “from of a wide range of perspectives, topics, contexts, and methods, including interdisciplinary, legal, interpretive, critical, historical, evaluative, analytic, and empirical analyses.”

The Institutional Corrections Research Network is an affiliation of researchers who work for state and federal correctional agencies across the country, many of whom are responsible for supplying data to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Corrections Reporting Program. Once a year, this community gathers for the Annual ICRN/NCRP Data Providers Meeting, with the goal of providing “recommendations for a national research agenda and to assist the corrections field in further developing infrastructure to have high-quality data and share it through national partnerships” and “bringing together agency-based researchers to discuss issues and share insights on research conducted within agencies that operate correctional institutions.” Though research by these practitioners can span several areas of inquiry, educational evaluations have recently been featured; the last meeting, for example, closed with a session titled “A Review of Educational Strategies and their Impacts.” With titles like “Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics,” “Executive Director, Data Analytics,” and “Evaluation Unit Manager,” ICRN / NCRP specialists have the potential to serve as invaluable partners for those wishing to carry out empirical research studies on HEP. In fact, many members of this network are the DOC personnel charged with reviewing and approving external research and data requests. While the latter might paint these professionals as informational gatekeepers, their divisions housed within state and federal correctional agencies bear missions and perform activities directly aligned to the goals of this project, such as that of Idaho DOC’s Evaluation and Compliance Unit—“[providing] actionable information to decision makers to evaluate current practices to ensure the delivery of high quality, evidence-based programming”—and that of Wisconsin DOC’s Research and Policy Unit—“developing standards for data measurement and reporting…to implement evidence-based practices through data-driven policy development and research.”
Relationships bolstering an HEP RI needn’t consist solely of site-specific partnerships, large professional networks, or formally chartered organizations. Rather, smaller research collaboratives in the field can drive the research enterprise and, as experienced experts in HEP research, often partner with larger coalitions and government agencies to help them perform rigorous empirical studies. The Research Collaborative on Higher Education at the University of Utah, for example, works in collaboration with programs across the nation “to transform the landscape of higher education in prison through empirical research and collaboration toward more equitable and quality experiences for incarcerated students.” To this end, the Collaborative was a key research partner for the Alliance’s previously discussed National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs, collaborating to compile a primary dataset for the project. Another example of a research collaborative is an affinity group assembled as part of the STEM Opportunities in Prison Settings (STEM-OPS) collective impact alliance, a five-year project that gathers STEM educators around improving postsecondary STEM education in prison. The group operates within the larger project STEM-OPS and focuses on sharing data and workshopping ethical research practices across thematic topics and regions.8
Reflecting on your experience—within the field of HEP or in other practice areas—what relationships have proven effective (or ineffective) in advancing research, and what made them successful (or unsuccessful)?
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Because HEP is a heterogeneous community, agreements around research priorities and design have tended to occur in silos. Nonetheless, the field of HEP has made some small strides to define methodological standards, metrics guidelines, and ethics protocols involved in research on HEP programs and their students, which we describe below. For instance, the narrow reliance on recidivism as a key measure for assessing “what works” in prison programs has prompted efforts to propose new norms around research methodology and the development of metrics frameworks to guide the field towards assessing program quality in novel and more comprehensive ways. Additionally, federal regulations such as the Common Rule provide guidance around conducting human subjects research in HEP and form the basis for establishing the ethical principles contained in an RI. Such agreements can serve as the basis for or inform a future set of practices, methodologies, and ethics that are universally adopted across the field of HEP.

The available literature of empirical studies in the field has most commonly employed criminology metrics and methodologies. The standard has been to study HEP as one in an array of in-prison “treatment programs.” In order to compare the putative success of HEP to that of other interventions—such as counseling and drug and alcohol therapies—HEP has been almost exclusively evaluated using the same metrics and methods of these other types of initiatives. As such, researchers have used reduced recidivism rates as the chief outcome metric by which to judge HEP’s impact and efficacy,9 even if its exact definition differs by study,10 and its primacy as a metric for measuring program effectiveness has become contested.11 The prevalence of recidivism as an outcome metric has engendered a series of associated practices in postsecondary prison education research around methodological rigor. As more and more studies published positive findings on in-prison education’s effect on reducing recidivism rates, scholars began challenging this body of literature by critiquing their susceptibility to selection bias. These researchers argued that incarcerated people who are motivated to apply and enroll in such programming might already possess experiences, backgrounds, and/or other unobserved characteristics that prepare them for success while confined or post-release. In response, the field began adopting quasi-experimental methods such as propensity score matching for controlling for selection bias in their analyses of the impact of educational program participation on recidivism.12 Now, this method is standard practice for quantitative in-prison education evaluations.13

As HEP programming grows and the field debates how to best measure its different impacts on different groups of students, there is a fertile opportunity for creating new guidelines for improving and standardizing what metrics researchers use and how they are collected. Stakeholders in the field have already begun proposing such guidelines. For instance, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) introduced the Higher Education in Prison Key Performance Indicator Framework (HEP KPIs) in 2020 “in response to the expressed need from both practitioners and policymakers for better data on current HEP programming.”14 Adapting metrics already developed to help the greater sector of higher education apply data-driven approaches to improve equitable student success, including ensuring that data are disaggregated by various relevant demographic identity markers, the HEP KPIs were tailored to meet the unique needs of HEP learners. These 41 discrete impact measures fall under four outcome categories: student success (i.e. GPA, retention, recidivism rate); academic quality (i.e. learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, student motivation); civic engagement (i.e. political awareness, diversity attitudes, interpersonal skills); and soft skill development (i.e. adaptability, empathy, creativity). Importantly, the HEP KPIs were developed in consultation with HEP-enrolled students “to ensure that [their] perspectives were represented in assessing program impact.”15

In February 2021, Jamii Sisterhood—a relational network that “provides professional development in equity, cultural competency, and race relations to education professionals”—announced Project Freedom—a “launching pad for the field-wide, deliberate, and intentional increase of the representation of Black and LatinX persons engaged in higher education in prison.” As part of the project’s strategic plan to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) build and grow HEP programs, Project Freedom will create an HEP Quality Index to “investigate the various axes that research indicates are helpful as we consider quality higher education.” The index will build upon the HEP KPIs built by IHEP, as well as the evidence-based work performed by The Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison and other researchers in the field. Jamii will also guide Project Freedom participants as they put the Quality Index into practice by helping them build tailored dashboards for analyzing data collected around student outcomes and other valuable measures around program quality. This endeavor uses a participatory action research (PAR) approach in which students are embedded into the research design, data collection, and data analysis processes; students will also be involved in the writing of subsequent research manuscripts.

Title 45, part 46 of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides guidance for conducting research involving human subjects and is divided into four subparts. First codified in 1991 and referred to colloquially as the Common Rule, 45 CFR 46 contains baseline ethics protocols for protecting all human research subjects, which are mandated by almost all national research institutions (including colleges and universities) and were significantly updated in 2018. Subpart C of this regulation—“Additional Protections Pertaining to Biomedical and Behavioral Research Involving Prisoners as Subjects”—requires supplemental safeguards for protecting incarcerated people, a population that has been historically exploited through unethical research due to their physical constraint (which impedes the ability to make truly uncoerced decisions for participation). Importantly, Subpart C not only requires IRB approval of research with incarcerated participants, it also mandates that at least one IRB member “be a prisoner, or a prisoner representative with appropriate background and experience to serve in that capacity.” While regulations and governance around IRB processes can create obstacles to HEP research, as we discussed in a later section, these enforced standard protocols have been paramount in guiding the practices of researchers to protect incarcerated individuals and learners.

Reflecting on your experience—within the field of HEP or in other practice areas—what agreements have proven effective (or ineffective) in advancing research, and what made them successful (or unsuccessful)?
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Incentives, financial and otherwise, are necessary to uphold and maintain the agreements and relationships established under an RI. Funding opportunities or pioneering research initiatives, for instance, have the potential to motivate and inspire various stakeholders to come together to collect and share data, evaluate best practices, and consider measures of student outcomes. Currently, many types of stakeholders include some form of incentive to evaluate the programming provided and adhere to protocols and guidelines established by various organizations. For example, university sponsors have incorporated program evaluation into funding structures, ensuring the continued assessment of program quality. Government legislation, like the Higher Education Act of 1965 and its corresponding amendments in the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, has built-in requirements for evaluation as well as data collection and analysis.16 Private philanthropic organizations also contribute to the reinforcement of existing agreements and relationships in the field through their priority setting and funding allocation, and serve as key partners in developing a fully-fledged HEP RI. It is important to note, that as with any field, existing incentives may motivate or uphold counterproductive or downright problematic structures and processes in powerful ways. We discuss some such examples from the HEP field in a later section of this paper.

Incentives do not have to, and do not always, operate independently of one another. Most notably, many HEP programs are funded through a mix of public and private sources. The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), for example, began as a small, university-sponsored program in 1999, but now receives a mix of funding from both public and private sources. Similarly, the City University of New York (CUNY) is a public institution whose Institute for Justice and Opportunity (formerly the Prisoner Reentry Institute) also receives funding from philanthropic organizations. The additional resources provided by multiple funders is particularly important for the majority of HEP efforts that are based in community colleges. Having more than one source of funding can also be beneficial by bringing stakeholders together to agree on and measure desired student outcomes. At the same time, blended funding has the potential to bind programs to varying and even contradictory research standards—a challenge that an RI can address by building consensus around standards across stakeholders. We describe three core incentivizing entities and stakeholders next, while acknowledging their potential interconnectedness and recognizing the many other entities and processes that directly and indirectly influence HEP research.

HEP programs often rely on varying degrees of financial, programming, and faculty support from colleges and universities. While many of these programs carry the name of a sponsoring university, often the programs themselves are set up as nonprofits that manage program logistics and engage faculty and/or coursework from additional educational institutions, such as neighboring community colleges. For example, the Princeton University Prison Teaching Initiative brings Princeton graduate students, postdocs, and faculty to eight New Jersey correctional facilities to offer credit-bearing postsecondary instruction, but three separate academic institutions actually confer that credit and students who graduate from the Initiative do so without a Princeton degree. While more data is needed to determine the number of programs that receive funding primarily from universities—as opposed to aid from federal and state grants or philanthropic organizations—it is crucial to consider the impact that universities, with all their resources, can have in establishing, measuring, and collecting information about HEP student outcomes.

One of the longest-standing examples of a university-sponsored program is the Boston University Prison Education Program (PEP), which graduated its first class in 1977. Programs like the PEP served as models for other universities interested in launching HEP initiatives in the wake of the 1994 Crime Bill, which slashed Pell grant funding for incarcerated individuals. Faculty volunteers launched Cornell University’s Prison Education Program (CPEP) in the late 1990s in an effort to mitigate the paucity of HEP opportunities that existed at the time. Other programs, like the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS), the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program, the Justice Education Initiative at the Claremont Colleges, the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP), the University of California Los Angeles Prison Education Program, the Washington University Prison Education Project (PEP), and Wesleyan Center for Prison Education (CPE), among others, represent more recent efforts by academic institutions to bring higher education to incarcerated individuals on the premise of expanding access to higher education.

University-sponsored HEP efforts have the potential to emphasize continuity in standards between their main campuses and their prison classrooms. Ideally, imagining carceral spaces as extensions of colleges and universities, rather than as separate entities, would lead to programs that have consistent funding, strong faculty buy-in, and high academic standards. The benefits of HEP university sponsorships also create research opportunities, and collaborating and sharing this information with other HEP stakeholders opens the potential for successful replication of these rigorous and often highly-touted programs.17

Some federal and state laws, policies, or initiatives require or incentivize the collection and analysis of data on incarcerated learners through mandatory reporting requirements. Perhaps the most influential initiative at the federal level, Second Chance Pell, initially promised to include evaluation as a requirement for funding, but the US Department of Education’s Evaluation Report was limited in scope. There is an opportunity to include this in the implementation of this policy in upcoming years to incentivize research on program quality and success. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) survey of incarcerated adults also incentivizes the collection of educational data on incarcerated adults that can support research efforts. At the state level, for instance, California has required its community colleges receiving state funding to perform empirical research on all programming provided, which has resulted in a number of publications on the progress of the initiative and its impact on students. More information on these examples of government-driven incentives are presented in the expandable sections below.

The Higher Education of Act of 1965 created need-based, federal financial aid in the form of the Federal Pell Grant. This type of funding opened access to higher education to students all across the United States, including in carceral spaces, allowing HEP programs to proliferate in quantity throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1994, the federal government passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (more commonly known as “the Crime Bill”), eliminating incarcerated students from Pell Grant eligibility. The year the Crime Bill passed, an estimated 25,000 individuals behind bars received $35 million in Pell Grants—which was less than one percent of the total amount of Pell aid allotted to students across the country in 1994. HEP had grown so reliant on Pell Grants since 1965 that the impact of the Crime Bill led to the dissolution of many existing programs. One study found that of the estimated 772 programs that existed in the early 1990s, only eight HEP programs survived into the late 1990s. Without federal aid, many states made the decision to cut back on their funding for HEP initiatives as well.

The announcement of the experimental Second Chance Pell (SCP) Pilot program in 2015 was therefore an important moment for HEP, as was its renewal in the spring of 2020. By December, Congress voted to permanently restore Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals, paving the way for renewed HEP opportunities.

SCP catalyzed new and expanded HEP programs operating in US prisons. In doing so, it created much-needed pathways for thousands of students who previously did not have the necessary financial means or available onsite programming to pursue higher education. The program was a mainstream media darling, and such exposure drove public awareness, which arguably paved the way for the recent Pell ban lift. SCP’s public scrutiny–and reflecting on the limited information on the quality of programs that proliferated before the 1994 Crime Bill–has also incentivized the HEP community to rally around the need for better empirical research that focuses on quality, accepted norms, accountability, and best practices.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects educational attainment, motivation, and learning needs data on incarcerated adults through its Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI) program, which is “part of a series of data gathering efforts undertaken to assist policymakers.” Performed roughly every five years since 1974, SPI questionnaires capture incarcerated adults’ educational levels upon entering a correctional facility; the amount and type of educational programming they received during incarceration; their reported reasons for pursuing and/or no longer participating in different types of educational programs; and their diagnoses of different types of learning disabilities.18 Researchers can use this information to analyze educational data across an extensive array of other demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral characteristics, and all eight datasets are freely available to researchers in a variety of file formats (i.e. .csv, .dta for use in Stata).19

California passed SB1391 in 2014, which allowed state community colleges to not only establish face-to-face degree-granting courses in prison, but also to be compensated for enrolled students in the same manner as those on campus: through full-time equivalent student (FTE) general apportionment funding. Importantly, this legislation requires any individual colleges receiving this funding to perform empirical research on their HEP programming in partnership with CA DOC and the greater CA CC system: “The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in collaboration with the Office of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, shall develop metrics for evaluations of the efficacy and success of the programs developed through the interagency agreement established pursuant to this section, conduct the evaluations, and report findings from the evaluations to the Legislature and the Governor on or before July 31, 2018.”20 The data collection and analysis requirements spurred by SB1391 has incentivized some recipients of this funding to publish their student and program outcomes online. Cerro Coso Community College, for example, has created interactive dashboards that enable researchers to visualize various performance metrics, such as course enrollment counts, course retention rates, and course completion rates. Users can filter by a wide array of student-level variables—such as students’ gender, race, age, declared major, and prison campus (CCCC provides HEP at two CA correctional facilities)—as well as programmatic features—such as academic year, department, course number, and faculty type (full-time or adjunct)—to compare how different programmatic elements impact different student subgroups’ educational outcomes. These state-incentivized dashboards also invite users to perform the same performance analyses among non-incarcerated students. Such apples-to-apples comparisons, made in real time and supported by compelling data visualizations, persuasively argue CCCC’s HEP program efficacy: in almost every success metric, students outperform their non-incarcerated peers.

Private philanthropic organizations have played a central role in supporting and expanding college-in-prison programs across the nation and are increasingly contributing to incentivizing accompanying research and evaluation studies to promote evidence and best practices for the field. We provide brief examples below of how some private philanthropies have supported HEP research endeavors.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been a key philanthropic actor for HEP since 2015, investing millions in grants to help extend and expand higher education to incarcerated individuals all across the country. Grants focused on growing existing HEP initiatives, like the Education Justice Project (EJP) at the University of Illinois, also include a key evaluation component that allows affiliated researchers to study program outcomes as well as the mechanics by which college-in-prison may benefit students. The foundation is also cooperating with various other foundations to support data collection efforts and the resultant dissemination of best practices for teaching students. (As noted above, this project is funded by the Mellon Foundation.)

In 2019, Ascendium Education Group launched a $5 million initiative called, “Optimizing Delivery Systems for Higher Education in Prison: Postsecondary Pathways for Re-Entry Transition.” Ascendium has committed itself to a multi-pronged approach to supporting HEP by bolstering data collection and evaluation, supporting and launching new HEP initiatives, and increasing students’ access to materials. As part of this initiative, Ascendium has funded the Second Chance Education Alliance to conduct an evaluation of their efforts for state sites. Ascendium also funded The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (the Alliance)’s National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs (in partnership with the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley) by providing them with a two-year research grant to undertake the project.

The Laughing Gull Foundation launched its higher education in prison program in 2015 with the goal of increasing students’ access to credit-bearing college courses, particularly across the American South. In 2020, it provided a grant to the Jamii Sisterhood in support of Project Freedom, described earlier in this paper, which includes a core research component to create an HEP Quality Index.

Finally, Lumina Foundation, which announced its commitment to expanding HEP opportunities in its 2017 to 2020 Strategic Plan, provided funding for the 2020 Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center study on access to education behind bars. Other philanthropic organizations that have been critical in supporting HEP efforts include the Art for Justice Fund, the ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Sunshine Lady Foundation.

What other federal or state incentives might help to facilitate an HEP RI?
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Reflecting on your experience—within the field of HEP or in other practice areas—what incentives have proven effective (or ineffective) in advancing research, and what made them successful (or unsuccessful)?
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  1. We identified, reviewed, and coded eligible studies to help us better understand the HEP research landscape. This database is composed of empirical studies on the impacts of higher education in prison (HEP). The studies that appear in this database represent known research on HEP programs and students in US prisons since Federal Pell Grants began funding them in 1965. Inclusion is not an endorsement of a study, its content, or its findings, as they have not been vetted for quality or any other indicator outside of basic qualifying information.
  2. “All programs are dependent on their collaborative relationships with both the DOC and the specific prison where they work.” In Tanya Erzen, Mary R. Gould, and Jody Lewen, Equity and Excellence in Practice: A Guide for Higher Education in Prison, (2019), p. 14.
  3. See for example: State of California – Health and Human Services Agency Checklist for Research Involving Prisoners; State of Missouri Department of Corrections Research Agreement and Data Request; New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Research Agreement; Minnesota Department of Corrections Human Subjects Application Packet; Kentucky Corrections Policies and Procedures: Research, Surveys, and Data Requests; Michigan Department of Corrections: Student Research Involving MDOC; Colorado Department of Corrections: External Research Requests; and Iowa Data Portal.
  4. This adds an extra barrier to research, as studies might require both a university and DOC IRB. See Guy Gardner, “The Relationship of Higher Education Programs on Recidivism Delivered Through a North Carolina Community College in a Correctional Setting,” (2004), p. 56-57.
  5. Southeastern Correctional Institution and Denison University Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program Memorandum of Understanding,”(2019); A similar agreement between Southside Virginia Community College and the Commonwealth of Virginia through the Department of Corrections, Division of Education stipulates that “the partners agree to support each other’s pursuit of alternative funding sources” by “sharing data.” In the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections, “Memorandum Agreement Number: DCE-19-03,” (2019).
  6. Our research did not uncover what specific elements are assessed during this prison site-specific accreditation process, or whether evaluation of HEP programs factor into it. See Correctional Education Association, “Standards Commission.”
  7. We identified, reviewed, and coded eligible studies to help us better understand the HEP research landscape. This database is composed of empirical studies on the impacts of higher education in prison (HEP). The studies that appear in this database represent known research on HEP programs and students in US prisons since Federal Pell Grants began funding them in 1965. Inclusion is not an endorsement of a study, its content, or its findings, as they have not been vetted for quality or any other indicator outside of basic qualifying information.
  8. 2020 STEM For All Video Showcase.” STEM-OPS is steered by Stanley Andrisse, who also runs Prisons-to-Professionals (P2P). This is important to note because it is the first instance of a formerly incarcerated person leading an HEP project of this size and visibility.
  9. See, for example, Amy E. Lerman and Jacob Grumbach, The Prison University Project: Qualitative Evidence on the Impact of Prison Higher Education.
  10. These definitions differ among state DOCs. Sometimes recidivism measures re-arrest, sometimes re-sentencing, and sometimes re-incarceration–each over various timeframes.
  11. Not returning to prison is undoubtedly a desirable outcome both for the formerly-incarcerated individual and for society writ-large, but focusing on recidivism alone can preclude the many other benefits of education behind bars. It can also minimize the collateral consequences of conviction on students’ post-release outcomes that cannot be addressed by educational programs. There is a growing body of work addressing the problem with recidivism as a key HEP metric. See for example: Mary Rachel Gould, “Rethinking Our Metrics: Research in the Field of Higher Education in Prison,” (2018), p. 387–404; Robert Scott, “The Concept of Reducing Recidivism via College-in-Prison: Thoughts on Data Collection,” (2018); Erin L. Castro, “Racism, the Language of Reduced Recidivism, and Higher Education in Prison: Toward an Anti-Racist Praxis,” (2018); and Emily Pelletier and Douglas Evans, “Beyond Recidivism: Positive Outcomes from Higher Education Programs in Prisons,” (2019), p. 49-68.
  12. By accounting for a number of factors that predict treatment receipt in a sample, this statistical method allows researchers to compare outcomes between two groups with more confidence. It also allows for group comparisons post-facto—and when it is not possible or advisable to knowingly withhold college education from otherwise qualified and motivated individuals—in order to create a study comparison group. See for example: Miles D. Harer, “Recidivism Among Federal Prisoners Released in 1987,” (1994); Linda G. Smith, “Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Education Outcome Study,” (2005); Laura Winterfield, Mark Coggeshall, Michelle Burke-Storer, Vanessa Correa, and Simon Tidd, The Effects of Postsecondary Correctional Education Final Report, (2009); and Ryang Hui Kim and David Clark, “The Effect of Prison-Based College Education Programs on Recidivism: Propensity Score Matching Approach,” (2013), p. 196–204.
  13. Quantitative researchers interested in this methodological history and its improvements over time should consult Elizabeth K. Drake and Danielle Fumia, “Evolution of Correctional Education Evaluations and Directions for Future Research” (2017), p. 551-555 for a detailed overview.
  14. Michael Scott Brick and Julie Ajinkya, Supporting Success: The Higher Education in Prison Key Performance Indicator Framework, (2020), p. 7.
  15. Brick and Ajinkya, Supporting Success, 9.
  16. FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020: Section by Section,” p. 20.
  17. See, for example, the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison and the Massachusetts Prison Education Consortium.
  18. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI) Questionnaire” (formally called “Surveys of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities).
  19. See the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).
  20. Raul Arambula and Leslie LeBlanc, Inmate Education: Encouraging Results from Pilot Program, (2018), p. 11.