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The Goucher Prison Education Partnership

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice > Updates

Each year, about 130 students enroll in Goucher through the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) and the Maryland Correctional Institution – Jessup (MCIJ). These students are incarcerated in state prisons, and they are undergraduate Goucher College students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in American Studies.

Courses Offered in GPEP

Currently, GPEP offers around 30-35 courses in the prisons each year, which are selected from Goucher College’s course catalog: the same catalog offered on Goucher’s main campus. Classes are taught by faculty from Goucher and other local colleges and universities.

Last year, GPEP classes included Economics, Statistics, Roots of American Literature, Writing, Spanish, and American Studies. Students in the Fundamentals of Music Theory course gained an understanding of the inner structural workings of music. Inspired by the coursework, they asked to re-write and record Goucher College’s alma mater song, resulting in a collaborative project, each verse penned by a different student and recorded all together with pride.

GPEP Student Support

In addition to classes, GPEP provides comprehensive, personalized support to help students reach their fullest potential, such as college preparatory courses and academic advising. Each student has a staff member who serves as their academic advisor. They meet at least twice per semester, but as often as every week if needed, and discuss topics such as overview of course selection to ensure satisfaction of graduation requirements, challenges with a particular class, strategies for building strengths and closing gaps on weaknesses, and always—encouragement.

In Spring 2022, one student struggled with college preparatory classes and was on academic probation for failing two classes. In Fall 2022, however, this same student met weekly with their advisor and earned a B in their college preparatory math class and an A in WRT181! The personal connection between student and advisor builds student self-confidence, professional growth, and academic excellence.

GPEP Tutors

Another aspect of GPEP’s individualized approach is the use of tutors. Twice weekly, students have access to study hall with tutors skilled in the classes in which they are enrolled, be it math, writing across the disciplines, Spanish, art, music, economics, or biology.

Tutors work with students individually or in small groups. GPEP tutors are advanced GPEP students and outside volunteers who go through a GPEP-led training on best practices for tutoring adult learners and commit to volunteering in person in the prisons one night per week for at least a semester. They meet students where they are academically, guiding them in areas of difficulty even as they recognize and reinforce strengths.

The GPEP Team

GPEP is run by eight full-time staff members, including a new member of our team, Kenard Johnson ’19, who will begin in December 2023 in a new position: Director of Alumnae/i Engagement. This addition to our staff is part of GPEP’s five-year plan. GPEP staff members are:

Eliza Cornejo, Executive Director

Andrea Jones, Director of Advancement

Meredith Conde, Director of College Operations

Ramieka Robinson-Peoples, Senior Site Director

Kenard Johnson, Director of Alumnae/I Engagement

Claire Corliss, Student Records Manager

Derek Borowsky, Volunteer Manager

Shawnté Perry, Coordinator of Office Operations

GPEP Alignment with Goucher DEIJ Mission

DEIJ work is embedded in every aspect of GPEP’s work, starting with the admissions process. GPEP’s admissions process is unlike that of a traditional college. GPEP students typically come from communities strongly impacted by structural racism: 67% are first-generation college students, and 77% are people of color. They have been systematically and historically excluded from quality education starting in elementary school. To evaluate them on test scores when their education has been so inequitable would perpetuate the discrimination they have faced.

Instead, GPEP’s admissions framework creates a path to college for these students, regardless of initial academic readiness. Students must have a high school diploma or GED to apply, and many GPEP students earned their GED in prison. GPEP seeks students who are deeply committed to excelling in the challenging, joyful, curiosity-fueled, years-long experience that is college. When coupled with tenacious study, that commitment leads to success.

Students who are not yet ready for demanding college work first enroll in GPEP’s college preparatory courses where they strengthen their writing and math skills so that they are ready to meet the high academic standards of Goucher courses. GPEP supplements its college preparatory classes and college coursework with individual tutoring, weekly advising, supplemental instruction sessions, and study hall, preparing and supporting students so they can fully engage with the rigorous education for which Goucher is known, regardless of their educational background.

The average GPA for GPEP students is over 3.0. Of the GPEP students who have completed their degree with Goucher, 40% graduated with honors—cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude.

Unlocking the Great Potential in GPEP Students

GPEP offers college to students in prison not because there is something broken in them that needs to be repaired, but because there is huge potential in them waiting to be unlocked. The realized potential of these students changes their lives, along with those of their families and communities. That is reason enough to do this work.

However, there are economic arguments as well. For every dollar spent on education in prison, taxpayers save five dollars (Rand Corporation Report). Individuals who enrolled in college while in prison are 48% less likely to be reincarcerated than their peers (Journal of Experimental Criminology). Upon returning home, individuals who completed some college coursework in prison are 23% more likely to be employed than those who received no education (Higher Education Behind Bars (PDF)).

Maryland taxpayers are spending $17 million on incarcerating people from the small Baltimore City neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester alone, and without access to college while incarcerated, we can expect that taxpayers will continue to pay to reincarcerate over 40% of those individuals within 3 years of them returning home (Maryland Gov).

With the cost to educate each GPEP student at just $8,200 for the 2023-2024 academic year, GPEP boasts an enviable return on investment, as alumni come home, stay home, and become taxpaying citizens who contribute to the livelihood and vibrancy of the communities we all call home.

GPEP Alumni Success

An excellent college education offers access to ideas and scholarship, to social movements, to art, and to academic context for lived experience. It empowers students to think independently and thoughtfully critique ideas. GPEP students stimulate awareness and meaningful dialogue in and beyond the Goucher community about justice, incarceration, and educational access.

GPEP alumni carry on this work past their graduation and return home. Many are leaders in creating a more equitable society.

Today, GPEP alumni are working to upend systems that exclude access to higher education to low-income individuals and people of color, while simultaneously over-incarcerating those same groups:

Maurice Smith seeks to reform the justice system as a Program Analyst at the Vera Institute’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. William Freeman works to enhance educational opportunities for students who have low income or are people of color through his job at the Education Trust’s Higher Education Justice Initiatives. Both are also pursuing master’s degrees, Maurice at Rutgers, and William at Johns Hopkins.

Sekwan Merritt sought to strike down the exclusion of formerly incarcerated business owners as CARES Act funding recipients during the pandemic. He served as a key plaintiff in a successful ACLU national civil rights litigation. Building on his victory, three GPEP alumni met with the head of the US Small Business Administration to discuss how criminal convictions create barriers to accessing the resources and capital needed to start a small business.

Nine GPEP alumni have interned with the Smithsonian’s Center for Restorative History, using the principles of restorative justice to incorporate people of color and formerly and currently incarcerated individuals in our national narrative. Read more about the GPEP Alumni Internship Program.

Ramieka Robinson and William Freeman were asked to serve on the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ Lived Experience Committee, which provides DPSCS a lived experience perspective regarding prison living conditions, educational programming, and the reentry process.

Sara Citroni sits on a review board that evaluates any new colleges submitting proposals to start new college-in-prison programs in Maryland, and she also supports women getting ready for parole hearings through her full-time work at Prepare.

The lived experience of former GPEP students—combined with their access to a strong liberal arts education—ensures there will always be a portion of GPEP graduates who will take up the fight for a more just society, including access to quality college education in prison.

Institutions that Partner with GPEP to Ensure Student Success

One of GPEP’s most notable partnerships is with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which has created a GPEP Alumni Internship Program. The internships, open only to former GPEP students, are part of the museum’s Center for Restorative History, which spotlights the people and stories that have been excluded from our national narrative using the principles of restorative justice. The program gives voice to historically excluded communities—such as people of color and incarcerated persons—by providing a more inclusive and thus accurate understanding of US history. We are thrilled that there have been nine GPEP Alumni Interns to date.

The interns are provided with a yearlong (or more) professional experience at the Museum of American History that includes a livable stipend (this internship program is the highest-paid internship at the Smithsonian). Mentors guide interns’ experiences and offer support to help them navigate the unique challenges of reintegrating into the workforce. Interns enjoy enrichment activities so they can explore the museum field and develop professional skills, along with professional growth opportunities including attending high-level meetings and conducting informational interviews.

There is an ongoing evaluation process with interns and mentors to ensure responsiveness in internship program planning. Post-internship job placement support helps ensure intern alumni are set up for success.

GPEP’s Strategic Five-Year Plan

GPEP’s core goal is providing students who are incarcerated with the opportunity to enroll in classes and progress toward their college degree. This year, GPEP will execute year two of our five-year plan with three focus areas.

There are three major components to the plan:

  1. Halve time to degree by moving students from part-time to full-time and adding courses during summer and winter breaks. By academic year 2025-26, students will be able to complete their degree in four years, as compared to the current model of more than eight years.
  2. Expand academic offerings to GPEP students to more closely parallel those on Goucher College’s Towson campus.
  3. Strengthen support for alumni returning home by increasing assistance with college continuation, strengthening digital literacy, accessing meaningful work, and connecting with returning services. Work by GPEP staff and volunteers will be augmented by partner organizations.


Details on Each of the Three Plan Components

Halve Time to Degree

In creating GPEP’s five-year plan, GPEP’s leadership team considered what changes would have the most meaningful impact on students. Rather than focus on expanding the number of students or the number of prisons in which classes operate, GPEP staff decided to halve the time to a degree.

For students coming home, barriers to completing their degree on the outside are significant. Coming home with only a few credits needed for degree completion incentivizes alumni with many competing priorities on their time to stay on track. Returning home with a B.A. significantly enhances opportunities for meaningful work, rather than just a paycheck to stay afloat. And by halving time to degree, the number of students enrolled over time will also ultimately be doubled.

Recently, a GPEP student shared with GPEP’s Executive Director that he was working on a petition to go before the parole board earlier than scheduled, but asked the judge not to release him until he completed his Goucher College bachelor’s degree through GPEP. This student asked to remain in prison until he finished his B.A., even if it would be possible for him to return home before then.

The GPEP student shared that he has been in and out of prison before, and he knows that coming home with a bachelor’s degree would make him significantly more prepared to find legal, lucrative work once he comes home, so that he can stay home for good.

The true value of a Goucher College education for GPEP students is immeasurable, and of course, this is a decision that nobody should have to make. This student inspires the GPEP team to work harder toward their goal of halving time to degree so that more people are coming home with degrees, even as they work to improve resources for everyone returning home from prison.

Also, this past spring, GPEP staff completed all the required administrative work to offer the first-ever mini semester of Goucher courses in both prisons this past July! Twenty-five students at MCIJ took “Literature of the Harlem Renaissance” while 25 at MCIW enrolled in either “Principles of Accounting” or “Qualitative Environmental Research.”

Adding classes to the summer and winter breaks will ultimately allow students to take up to six additional credits per year. At a time when they were previously just waiting for the next semester to start, GPEP students are now completing graduation requirements and racking up more completed credits. Just as importantly, if not more, they are remaining intellectually engaged and connected to the community that serves as a lifeline for so many.

Expand Academic Opportunities

GPEP is committed to creating the greatest possible level of parity with the main Goucher College campus so that Goucher undergraduates in the prisons can enjoy the same robust educational experience as those on the Towson campus.

Last year, GPEP brought peer tutoring and senior thesis opportunities to students inside the prisons. This year, GPEP students will gain access to a large, closed database called J-STOR that will allow them to conduct their own original research. Such access will enrich the research experience in all classes (especially for the senior theses) while building digital literacy skills for all students.

Fall 2023 also marks the launch of GPEP students writing for Goucher student publications and their first student club—an improv group, by popular demand!

Strengthen Support for Alumni

Historically, GPEP has provided robust support to students coming home on an ad hoc basis. Staff members and volunteers were happy to work with individuals as they returned home, helping them set up an email account, create a resume, develop a job search strategy, plan for continued education, and provide moral support and encouragement during an unimaginably stressful time.

As GPEP’s alumni population continues to grow, and especially as the GPEP staff works to shorten the time to degree, they are building a structure that will allow them and the program’s volunteers to provide all the “coming home” support (and more!) in a comprehensive, consistent manner. To this end, GPEP envisioned a new position, the GPEP Director of Alumni Engagement. The new director, Kenard Johnson ’19, will begin his tenure in December 2023.

GPEP is thrilled to have successfully completed the first year of its ambitious five-year plan. As students and alumni move to degree completion faster, they will be empowered to join the workforce and achieve their diverse goals and dreams at a higher level. We look forward to seeing the lives they will build, including strengthening the cause of justice around incarceration and educational access.