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Changing Minds the Impact of College in a Maximum-Security Prison: Effects on Women in Prison, the Prison Environment, Reincarceration Rates and Post-Release Outcomes

NCJ Number
Michelle Fine; Maria Elena Torre; Kathy Boudin; Iris Bowen; Judith Clark; Donna Hylton
Date Published
September 2001
65 pages

This study examined the impact of providing college educations to women incarcerated in a maximum-security prison.


Major findings from this study on the impact of providing college educations to women incarcerated in a maximum-security prison include the following: 1) college-in-prison reduces reincarceration rates and saves taxpayer money; 2) college-in-prison enables positive management of the prison environment; and 3) college-in-prison transforms the lives of students and their children and promotes lasting transitions out of prison. This study was conducted to determine the impact that college-in-prison programs have on incarcerated individuals by evaluating the college-in-prison program reintroduced in 1997 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (BHCF) in Westchester County, NY. The evaluation focused on several themes: the impact of college on women while inside prison, the effect of college on the prison environment and other inmates, and the effect of a mother's college experience on her children; and the long-term effects of college on the economic, social, and civic engagements of women once released from prison. The program at BHCF was chosen for the study because it is one of only 8 out of 350 college-in-prison programs still operating in the country following passage of legislation in 1994 that removed incarcerated individuals' access to Pell grants. The study was conducted over 3 years and involved archival analysis of prison records, inmate initiated research on the impact of college, focus group interviews, individual interviews, interviews with corrections administrators and officers, focus group interviews and surveys of educators, quantitative tracking of women who attended college while in prison and a comparison group of women who did not attend college while in prison, and cost/benefit analysis of the College Bound Program. The findings from the study lend strong support to the idea that college-in-prison programs provide positive benefits by reducing reincarceration and crime rates, cutting the tax burden of prison construction and maintenance, and building stronger communities. Tables, figures, appendixes, and references