Pitzer College Receives $1.1 Million Mellon Grant to Expand Prison Education at The Claremont Colleges

Claremont, Calif. (July 10, 2018)—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Pitzer College a five-year $1.1 million grant to develop an integrated Claremont Colleges-wide Critical Justice Education (CJE) program. The multi-pronged CJE program will foster social change through the power of prison education and educate Claremont Colleges students and locally incarcerated individuals.

The Critical Justice Education program builds on established partnerships between the five undergraduate institutions of The Claremont Colleges (the 5Cs) and nearby prisons, juvenile detention facilities and residential rehabilitation centers. CJE program partners include the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) and the California Institution for Women (CIW).

CJE will expand an existing slate of Inside-Out courses attended by both 5C and incarcerated students and taught by Pitzer and Claremont Colleges faculty inside local prisons. Next year, approximately 100 Claremont students and an equal number of incarcerated individuals will be able to take Inside-Out classes—with both “inside” and “outside” students earning academic credit.

Over the course of the five-year grant, the program will create an intercollegiate cohort of students who have integrated traditional classroom learning with experiential education inside carceral institutions. The initiative will also bring visiting scholars, activists, artists and speakers with expertise in the criminal justice system to the 5Cs. The Claremont Colleges are working towards creating a new intercollegiate major and/or minor and will assess the potential for developing a new 5C center focused on criminal justice studies by 2023.

Simultaneously, the initiative will broaden opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in California, which has the second largest prison population in the US. On-site prison education programs have withered nationally since 1994 when Congress withdrew Pell-grant funding for people in state and federal prisons. Today, the US locks up more people per capita than any other nation, according to the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

“This collaborative, intercollegiate prison education program is unlike any other in the country,” said Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver. “The Critical Justice Education program speaks both to the educational mission of Pitzer and The Claremont Colleges and to the urgent need to address the inequities and inadequacies of the criminal justice system in our country.”

Since 2016, Pitzer has granted academic credit to incarcerated students for completing Inside-Out courses. The Critical Justice Education program will work with Norco College, a two-year college with a prison education program, to help these students transfer their credits to a California community college or university after they are released from prison.

The design of the CJE program draws from pedagogical research showing that students reap great academic, personal and professional benefits from hands-on or immersive learning experiences known as “high-impact practices.” It combines this approach with research that shows prison education programs reduce recidivism rates among formerly incarcerated people.

“Mass incarceration dehumanizes our society and threatens intergenerational mobility across the US. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is pleased to support Pitzer and The Claremont Colleges’ expansion in this area and to serve as a thought partner in developing higher education programs that serve communities impacted by incarceration and deportation,” said Mellon Foundation Senior Program Officer Eugene M. Tobin.

Pitzer College will lead the CJE program with Nigel Boyle, Pitzer’s dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs, serving as the lead dean. Boyle said the project grew out of longstanding, pioneering work done on prison education by Pitzer faculty, staff and students as well as relationships developed by the 5Cs with community partners and the efforts of The Claremont Colleges’ Justice Education Working Group.

“What’s exciting about this consortial project is the set of partnerships it entails,” Boyle said. “Working with the 5Cs, Norco College, the CRC and other prisons allows us to scale up to an initiative that gets some traction on the enormity of the mass incarceration problem.”

Pitzer began phasing in Inside-Out courses in 2014. At Pitzer, prison education has ranged from students and faculty teaching at CRC through Cal Poly Pomona Professor Renford Reese’s Prison Education Project to Inside-Out courses to a study and teaching trip to a Ugandan maximum-security prison. Other 5C programs include Scripps College’s justice education projects with women in the prison system through the California Institution for Women and Crossroads, and Harvey Mudd College’s Prison Education Project in which students teach STEM subjects at local women’s and men’s prisons.

The Critical Justice Education program is one of the first major projects coordinated by the new Office of Consortial Academic Collaboration, founded in 2017 by the presidents of The Claremont Colleges to provide ongoing support for joint academic priorities across the colleges.

Through this unique, concerted effort, the Critical Justice Education program aims to bring the strengths of higher education and the liberal arts to bear in the current bipartisan national effort to create a more just incarceration system—a goal that dovetails with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s mission to “strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the wellbeing of diverse and democratic societies.”

The Claremont Colleges is a consortium of five undergraduate liberal arts colleges (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona and Scripps) and two graduate institutions (Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute), offering rigorous curricula, small classes, distinguished professors and personalized instruction in a vibrant residential college community that provides intensive interaction between students and faculty.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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