Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI) will introduce a full bachelor’s degree program for students incarcerated at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland, in the next academic year. The university and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) signed a memorandum of understanding on March 17, paving the way for the program to begin.
The new program expands on PJI’s efforts to bring credit-bearing Georgetown courses to incarcerated students through its Prison Scholars Program, which has offered a non-degree program at the DC Jail since 2018. More than 150 incarcerated students have participated in the program’s credit-bearing and non-credit courses.
“We are excited to build upon the success of the Prison Scholars Program and provide an opportunity for students to earn a college degree while incarcerated,” said Marc Howard, director of PJI. “A degree from Georgetown and the interdisciplinary coursework behind it will prepare our graduates to reenter their communities and the workforce with pride in their academic achievements.”
A path to a Georgetown degree
Funded with a $1 million, three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and support from Georgetown alumnus Damien Dwin, the new bachelor’s program at Patuxent will be modeled after Georgetown’s on-campus undergraduate programs.
The program will admit an initial cohort of 25 students through a competitive application process open to incarcerated people across the state prison system. PJI will evaluate applicants—who must have a high school diploma or GED—based on preparedness, motivation, and potential to succeed in the program through admissions exams and interviews. Students selected from other facilities will be transferred to Patuxent Institution.
Students will earn a degree in liberal arts, completing core requirements and coursework for one of three possible majors: cultural humanities, interdisciplinary social science, and global intellectual history. Students, who are expected to finish the program in about five years, will have access to academic support, library and research assistance, and career counseling, as well as comprehensive re-entry services. As a designated Second Chance Pell Experimental Site, Georgetown also can offer Pell Grants to support the education of qualified incarcerated students.
“Our goal is to provide the same rigorous, demanding courses of study inside of the prison that make a Georgetown education world-class,” says Joshua Miller, director of education at PJI. “Incarcerated students have repeatedly shown that they can rise to the challenge.”
Georgetown President John DeGioia said expanding the Prison Scholars Program is the next step in the university’s decades-long history of prison education and outreach.
“As a University, we have a responsibility to advance the common good and empower the members of our community to share in this important work,” says DeGioia. “As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, this commitment has been a long-standing element of Georgetown’s mission, and I’m grateful that this expansion of the Prison Scholars Program will ensure that future leaders who are currently incarcerated will be able to access the Georgetown academic experience as members of our community.”
Prison education broadly beneficial, experts say
The Prison Scholars Program seeks to be a model for successful reentry and reintegration, demonstrating that college education in jails and prisons reduces recidivism and costs, creates safer communities and stronger families, and greatly enhances the employment prospects of returning citizens.
After their release, many returning citizens struggle to find employment due to their criminal record, lack of formal education and large gaps in their resumes. The Prison Scholars Program equips them to overcome these hurdles and creates a pathway to financial stability and socioeconomic mobility.
“When you start looking at education, it can really be a great equalizer in breaking the cycle of poverty, breaking cycles of families where, perhaps, education and the chance [to] attend a university never occurred,” Robert Green, Maryland’s secretary of public safety and correctional services, told The Washington Post.
Erin Shaffer, director of Patuxent Institution, adds that students will emerge from the Prison Scholars Program stronger not only because of the added “book knowledge” but also because of the experience overall. “What can be just as significant is that the process of pursuing a college degree is challenging and it creates an immense amount of self-discipline,” Shaffer said.