Jill McCorkel and Robert DeFina
Critical Education, Volume 10, Number 7
Publication year: 2019


In 2016, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, an Experimental Sites Initiative that provides funding to eligible people in state and federal prisons as they pursue undergraduate coursework during the period of their incarceration. The administration justified the restoration of education programs in prison in terms of recidivism rates, citing research demonstrating that educational attainment decreases the odds that a person is reincarcerated for new crimes or parole violations following their release. While recidivism is a desired outcome from the restoration of higher education in prison, it is not and should not be the only one. We argue that a focus limited to recidivism obscures the relationship between education and democracy and diminishes the radical possibilities of higher education for fostering peaceful and just communities. In this essay we highlight some of our experiences as faculty and administrators of Villanova University’s undergraduate degree program at State Correctional Institution—Graterford to illustrate how the benefits of higher education can extend beyond market participation to include community building, expansion of social capital, and political action.