The Promise and Practice of Prison Higher Education

Principal Investigator: Amy Lerman | Goldman School of Public Policy | University of California, Berkeley


Higher education is widely understood as a pathway to economic mobility and an effective intervention into cycles of poverty and marginalization. Toward this end, Professor Lerman and her research team are conducting a multi-method evaluation of the Prison University Project College Program at San Quentin State Prison. Since 1996, more than 3,000 incarcerated students have participated in the program and over 130 have received their AA degree. The study will capture a broad range of potential impacts, both during incarceration and after release. These include educational attainment, civic engagement and leadership, mental and physical health, and housing and employment, as well as social and familial relationships. In addition, the researchers will measure a variety of social-psychological factors that might plausibly explain how program participation fosters change. Initial research suggests that prison higher education can provide individuals not only with a positive credential and intellectual development, but also with opportunities to develop their ideas about themselves and others, strengthen their confidence and coping skills, and focus on parts of their identity that help them achieve. Findings from this study will contribute to existing scholarship on prison higher education; help establish methods and best practices to promote evaluation of correctional programs; and support thoughtful dialogue among policy makers and the general public about prison higher education.,

Grant Type:

Lyle Spencer Research Awards

Grant Amount:




Topic / Subject:

Student Behavior/Attitude, Higher Education, Stratification, Policy

Methods / Approach:

Psychometric analyses, Econometric analyses, Survey/Questionnaire

Disciplinary Perspective:

Public Policy, PsychologySocial, Education