"Giving meaningful education in prison is an incredibly powerful way to partner with adults in disrupting cycles of poverty. We fail when we imagine that for our most vulnerable students a GED and a paycheck-to-paycheck job would be sufficient."
Founded in 2012, The Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP), a division of Goucher College and recipient of a two- year $50,000 grant from the BWGC in 2017, aims to provide a liberal arts college education to students incarcerated in Maryland state prisons. The BWGC was an early supporter of this program and has awarded it 3 one-year grants in the past.
The GPEP program that our grant supports offers transferrable college credit courses to approximately 50 female inmates at Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup (MCIJ). Each student takes a minimum of two courses per semester out of eight that are currently being offered. Faculty from Goucher College and other area colleges travel to the prison in Jessup to teach the courses. There is no charge for tuition or books.
The demand for the program is so great that inmates often must wait two years to enroll. Since students put in a full day of work in prison industries, they must learn to manage their time to put in homework and studying. The program boasts an admirable 88 percent retention rate.
Many of the students are from communities historically and systematically denied access to quality education. GPEP students gain a tool that can never be taken from them: an education that prepares them for a lifetime of professional, social, and political engagement. It also serves as the foundation for meaningful, well-paid employment. The vast majority of prisoners eventually return to a society where some form of higher education is almost a requirement for financial sustainability. Amy Rosa, Executive Director of GPEP says, “Giving meaningful education in prison is an incredibly powerful way to partner with adults in disrupting cycles of poverty. We fail when we imagine that for our most vulnerable students a GED and a paycheck-to-paycheck job would be sufficient.”
Benefits of higher education extend to the cellblocks, too. Students can serve as leaders and mentors, improving an environment often clouded by anger and boredom. As Rosa says, “the liberal arts offer all sorts of benefits that stay in place whether or not the person will go home”.
Investing in quality higher education for women incarcerated in state prison makes sense: Students’ investments in their own educations make an incredible difference in their futures as well as for their families and communities. As stated by former GPEP student Stephanie Spicer while she was incarcerated, “When I’m released, I’ll have a foundation to lean on. I want to make better choices.” Stephanie has made a successful transition back home, now working and raising her daughters. In addition to Stephanie, currently there at least 5 students who participated in GPEP while in prison who are now enrolled in college outside of prison and working to finish their BA degrees.
This multi-year grant from the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle will help these students lay the foundation for their futures. Through hard work, perseverance, and investment in education, GPEP students transform their own lives, the lives of their children and families, and the communities to which we all belong.