In July, the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education (CPE) was awarded a grant from The Tow Foundation of $100,000 over two years in unrestricted funding for general operating expenses. Funds will be used for academic programming, instructional materials and administrative costs of the program.
Now in its sixth year, CPE provides accredited Wesleyan courses to incarcerated students at Cheshire Correctional Institute, a men’s maximum security prison, and York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only women’s facility. Prisoners at MacDougall-Walker CI are also able to apply to the Center, and are transferred to Cheshire CI if admitted. The Center currently serves 40 students, and will hold admissions at both facilities over the summer, bringing its student population to just over 60 students and the number of prisoners who have studied with the Center over the past six years to approximately 100.
The Center currently offers between four and six classes each semester at Cheshire CI and two per semester at York CI, numbers which will grow as the student body continues to grow. Classes are offered in a range of subjects and levels of instruction. When teaching through the Center, professors change neither the content of their courses nor their expectations of students. Every incarcerated student enrolls in two classes per semester and attends a corresponding study hall for each class. Students receive extensive, individualized attention and academic support from the faculty, staff and volunteers who work with the program. Every study hall is staffed by tutors and teaching assistants, who are available to assist students in mastering new material, editing papers and any other academic support that might be necessary. During study halls, students have access to laptops, which not only are used to produce course work, but also have resources for students to perform research, including access to JSTOR, a database of academic articles, and the Wesleyan library catalogue. Students are able to submit research requests for library books, academic papers and various forms of popular media, which are then filled by traditional student volunteers on campus and brought back into the facility for student use. While such access is used primarily for coursework purposes, students are also able to use these services as a means of pursuing their own independent academic interests.
In addition to the core academic offerings, the Center also provides supplemental programming including skill-building workshops, non-credit bearing remedial classes, discussion groups, and lectures by visiting professors. The Center also supports former students in continuing their education post-release, assisting with the application process, applying for financial aid, and ensuring a smooth transition to a new institution of higher education.