In an innovative move, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, recently began a two-year pilot project offering college-level courses to convicted felons serving time at the high-security Cheshire Correctional Institution. The Center for Prison Education program provides undergraduate-level courses to a small class of male inmates who were selected in a blind admissions process; reviewers were unaware of the crimes or sentences of the applicants. More than 120 inmates from Cheshire applied to the program; 19 were admitted.
“We believe that educational opportunity should be a fundamental right, and recognize that a college education enables effective citizenship,” Russell Perkins, a fellow at the Center for Prison Education, told Sojourners. “The program offers an innovative way for Wesleyan to embody its long-standing commitments to social justice and civic engagement,” Perkins said. The program was initiated by two Wesleyan undergraduates, based on Bureau of Prisons data that indicated the more education an inmate received, the lower the recidivism rate. The Wesleyan program is unique in Connecticut, which has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast.