The Center for Prison Outreach and Education

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy cpoe.pages.tcnj.edu

The Center for Prison Outreach and Education is an extension of the College of New Jersey.  The program is designed for local prison populations.  Faculty members from the college teach classes to inmates in order improve their lives and reduce the possibility of recidivism.  As the program's website asserts, "Research indicates that inmates who participate in educational programs behind bars are less likely to recidivate, and more likely to become productive members of society upon their release. It is the Center's goal to make this transformation a possibility through the offering of credit-bearing courses as well as other forms of academic tutoring and enrichment to those living behind bars.”

To that end, the Center for Prison Outreach and Education has worked to secure funding to continue its important work which is ultimately to facilitate higher education in prisons.

College for Prison Inmates

The program for inmates is delivered by professional instructors who deliver courses that vary widely.  Inmates take courses alongside other College of New Jersey students who enroll in the prison classes.  This sets the program apart from other prison-based programs; the added dimension of mixing 'inside' and 'outside' students has had a positive impact on both sets of students.  Inmates receive college credit for the classes they pass.  All classes are academically standard; that is, all students are held to the same standards and requirements of the coursework. Now that the program's funding allows, inmates have the opportunity to work toward their Associate Degree in Business Management.

According to the website, classes are typically split between outside students and inmates.  In most ways the classes mirror any college class, but the perspectives and singular balance of the enrollees makes for truly dynamic discussions that turns out to be a beneficial experience for all.   

Academic Enrichment

Not all aspects of the program are credit based.  While inmates achieve credit for accredited coursework, some take non-credit classes or receive academic assistance through the program's tutoring initiatives.  A considerable portion of the tutoring is devoted to inmates studying to take the GED.  Other tutors support the studies of inmates taking college classes.  The tutors work with inmates struggling with math, language, or any other aspect of their classes. 

Academics are the driving force of the program, but the non-degree programming is also a cornerstone for the Center for Prison Outreach and Education.  Offerings are typically designed in conjunction with partners such as the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement. For example, the Bonner Center helps train volunteers who then help tutor the inmates in various subjects.  Other examples of prison enrichment programs include extra-curricular type activities like a prison magazine and academic clubs.

Promoting Education behind Bars

The College of New Jersey and its unique prison program also promotes what it does in regional communities so that there is a wider understanding concerning the value of education for prisoners.  From higher education to basic academic skills, the Center for Prison Outreach and Education has a primary focus on prisoners, but it also provides essential programming for that outside community and, of course, provides resources for anyone interested in volunteering to help with the prison-based programs.  Because this program has some singular characteristics like mingling outside and inside students, it is well worth examining closely to see how it continues to change lives in the future and help reduce recidivism for the state of New Jersey.