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Wesleyan Center for Prison Education awarded $1 million Mellon grant

MIDDLETOWN — Wesleyan University has received a $1 million, four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support operations at the Center for Prison Education.

The grant will allow CPE to expand its advanced course offerings, recruit new faculty, and bolster its partnership with Middlesex Community College and the Connecticut Department of Corrections, according to a press release.

Since 2009, CPE has offered accredited Wesleyan courses to students at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison for men. In 2013, the program expanded to offer the same coursework to students at York Correctional Institution for women. Courses range from English to biology to philosophy, and have the same rigor and expectations as courses on Wesleyan’s Middletown campus, the release continues.

“The Center for Prison Education is a wonderful example of the commitment by Wesleyan students and faculty to serving our broader community through the transformative power of the liberal arts,” Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth said in a prepared statement. “CPE has made a powerful difference in the lives of incarcerated people — one I’ve seen firsthand when I’ve lectured at the Cheshire prison.

“This generous grant from Mellon will enable CPE to have an even greater impact, particularly for those students who decide to continue their education beyond our program.”

CPE serves 72 students; nearly 130 have taken courses since the program’s inception. CPE is the longest running college-in-prison program in the state, and the only to offer a liberal arts-style education, according to the university. Approximately 50 Wesleyan students volunteer in the program each semester, working on site at Cheshire or York study halls, or on campus filling research requests and serving as project assistants.

“Connecticut’s prison population is over 14,000, a staggering incarceration rate of 400 inmates for every 100,000 residents,” CPE Program Manager Noah Barth said in the release. “Studies have suggested that inmates who participate in post-secondary education while in prison are nearly 50 percent less likely to re-offend — with even better results for those who graduate.”

The grant will allow CPE to recruit new faculty, and to increase the number of intermediate- and upper-level courses offered in areas including math, the humanities, and social sciences.

In 2016, CPE joined in a partnership with Middlesex Community College, which allows students to take a mix of courses rostered at either institution and to earn an associate’s degree. The partnership also enables CPE to harness MxCC’s experience in working with non-traditional students, and makes it easier for students to transfer into four-year colleges in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system after release.

The grant will support a new program coordinator position, who will take the lead on facilitating the partnerships with MxCC and the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

The grant will also fund faculty stipends for teaching, as well as instructional materials, supplies, and laptops equipped with academic research resources for student use.

CPE is funded by a combination of foundation grants, individual donations, and federal funding through the Second Chance Pell Experiment.


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