Georgetown Prison Scholars Program receives $1M Mellon Foundation grant

Georgetown University’s Prison Scholars Program at the DC Jail, which started in January 2018 with seed funding from the university, has received a $1M grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to extend the program to a Maryland prison and offer a path to bachelor’s degrees, writes The Washington Post. The program expansion comes amid growing support among private donors, legislators, and other stakeholders for providing higher education to incarcerated people, given evidence linking prison-based education with reductions in recidivism.

With the grant, Georgetown aims to offer credit-bearing courses to incarcerated students at Maryland’s Patuxent Institution; the university also has applied to participate in the federal Second Chance Pell program. “Support from the Mellon Foundation will allow us to expand this work by reaching even more incarcerated individuals and making families stronger and communities safer,” said Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative Director Marc Howard.

‘This is the next level—treating students as equals’

Georgetown’s program at the DC Jail is the only co-educational prison education program in the country. The program launched two years ago with 34 incarcerated students and non-credit-bearing classes in English, philosophy, music, debate, and government. Georgetown began offering credit-bearing courses in fall 2018, and as of fall 2019, students could take three credit-bearing classes: personal finance, prisons and punishment, and philosophy of law, along with six non-credit-bearing classes covering subjects such as the history of school busing, contemporary Christian theologies, and tenacity and mindfulness.

The prisons and punishment course is the first of its kind to offer credits both to incarcerated students and to main campus students, who travel to the DC Jail’s Correctional Treatment Facility to learn alongside inmates. “Same material, same grades, same credit, same assignments,” Howard told The Washington Post. “This is the next level—treating students as equals.” Incarcerated scholar Michael Woody called the course “a very humanizing experience that also brought a diversity of perspective.”

Related: Newly released Georgetown Prison Scholars participant reflects on his studies >

‘To be encouraged and challenged by my professors… has been a catapult’

In a December 2019 ceremony, 50 students at the DC Jail received certificates of course completion, half from the credit-bearing program. Georgetown President John J. DeGioia was there to celebrate students’ accomplishments and shake their hands. DeGioia said that Georgetown “takes seriously our educational mission and our responsibility to address issues of social and racial justice.”

Related: Georgetown Pivot Program graduates its first cohort >

One student who was celebrated at the ceremony, Roy Middleton, was released from prison in December after serving 24 years. He re-entered society at age 41 with 15 units of college credit and a 4.0 GPA. “To learn and study, to be encouraged and challenged by my professors, and then to see a pay off in real-time, has been a catapult for me,” Middleton said. “I pray that we can continue this growth and continue building, because this is what changes prison conditions.”


Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative convenes scholars, practitioners, and students to examine mass incarceration from multiple perspectives. PJI also has become a leader in providing higher education for incarcerated people, professional training for returning citizens, support for families of the incarcerated, and exonerations after wrongful conviction. 

Learn more about the Prisons and Justice Initiative, the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program at the DC Jail, the Prison Reform Project course, PJI’s custom paralegal program for returning citizens, and the Pivot Program offering certificates in business and entrepreneurship for Washington, D.C., residents released from local correctional facilities.

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