The Goucher Prison Education Program

By Christopher Zoukis

Providing educational access to inmates of two Maryland prisons is the cornerstone of the Goucher Prison Education Program (GPEP).  Faculty from Goucher College provides on-site instruction for inmates of the Maryland Correctional Center for Women and the Maryland Correctional Facility -Jessup.  The coursework is associated with the rigorous standards that the college is well-known for.  Goucher College faculty also provides college preparatory coursework that helps ready inmates for college classes but require some secondary skills first.  Image courtesy www.mdwsn.com

The Partnership

GPEP is a small initiative as far as prison education programs go; however, even with its sixty students, the program has big potential for changing lives and reducing recidivism.  Moreover, by working with a small population, the college may better be able to refine the program.  If it can be shown to be successful, it has the potential to be a model for other prison education programs and may even be expanded.  The partnership between the prison and the college demonstrates that there is acknowledgement for this segment of the community at large and that there is a need to promote education as a vehicle for change. 

The Program

Goucher is known for its historic Liberal Arts program.  Faculty from this suburban Baltimore college travel to one of two prisons to teach coursework to inmates.  Currently Goucher instructors offer a range of undergraduate classes to prisoners.  Inmates pay no fees nor do they pay for books or any supplies.  The program is privately funded; that is, no public funding from the government is used to support this initiative.  Goucher accepts donations for the program and actively promotes its benefits to the community and, indeed, the state.  Students earn college credit for their successful completion of coursework.  They are also regarded as part of the school's enrollment numbers and are treated with the same respect as any other student who attends their campus.  Moreover, they must have the credentials to attend the courses in their prisons--a high school diploma or GED. 

On Higher Education in College

Higher education is quite rare in prisons.  Federal funding for prison education programs was cut in the late 1990s.  When prison education is funded by alternative means, it is typically geared for inmates who need to master more basic academic skills so they can pass the GED.  Other prison-based classes might provide vocational instruction.  The Goucher Liberal Arts program, therefore, is quite a departure from the typical inmate instruction platform.  A Liberal Arts curriculum allows students with a hunger for higher education to sample various topics in order to find one to pursue as a major.  Because so few inmates have had access to higher education, they are often surprised--inspired might be a better word--and quite transformed by the prospect of this new path that is not only good for them, it's good for the communities they will return to upon release.

The Benefits of a Goucher Liberal Arts Education

Inmates are treated to the same level of instruction as Goucher's other students.  When they earn a credit, they earn it as anyone else.  This knowledge helps build the confidence they need to continue with the program and to continue their studies.  Goucher hopes to reduce recidivism, of course, but it also hopes to live its mission by providing education access to all and working to make a genuine difference in people's lives.  Their program may be small, but it is a veritable pioneer in modern prison education.