Andrew Mellon Foundation Awards $3.3 Million to Prison Education Programs

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced Wednesday it will direct $3.3 million in grant money toward four of the country’s preeminent prison education and re-entry programs.

The foundation was established in 1969 with the purpose of strengthening and promoting the role of the humanities and the arts in a diverse democratic society. In recent years, its leaders have prioritized the issue of prison education, allocating nearly $18 million since 2015 toward organizations that focus on helping incarcerated individuals earn college degrees.

Investing in the higher education of these individuals has widespread effects. Providing them with educational opportunities has proven to reduce violence within prisons, strengthen prisoners’ connection to their families and communities prior to being released, reduce the likelihood of recidivism, and mitigate intergenerational poverty, according to Mellon Foundation Senior Program Officer Eugene M. Tobin.

These latest funds support four projects. One is John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which offers credit-bearing courses to prisoners who live at Otisville Correctional Facility in Orange County, New York, and who are eligible for release in within five years. Donors are hoping that the support will offer opportunity and hope to at least some of the 54,000 incarcerated people in the state of New York.

Another grant will go toward New York’s Marymount Manhattan College (MMC), which offers AA and BA degree-granting programs to approximately 200 inmates annually at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities for Women and more recently, the Taconic Correctional Facilities for Women. The grant will help expand these programs and allow them to collaborate more with each other and MMC’s main campus.

A third grant will support California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA), which operates a bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated students at Lancaster State Prison as well as an in-person program on its main campus for prisoners who have recently been released.

Finally, the foundation will direct money to the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, a national prison education network that gathers and shares research about best practices for teaching incarcerated individuals. As educational programs for prisoners continue to grow and expand, the alliance plays an increasingly important role in addressing new challenges, like infrastructure needs and program quality.

Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander is optimistic that these initiatives can positively affect America’s crisis of mass incarceration. “The Mellon Foundation believes in each and every student’s humanity and sees expanding access to higher education in prison as a public good,” she said in a statement.

Ginger O’Donnell is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.