Two students' hands on open books.

In a First, Georgetown Bachelor’s Program in Prison Welcomes Mixed-Gender Class

Georgetown University’s bachelor degree program in a Maryland prison welcomed a new group of 25 students on Sept. 6. It’s now believed to be the only program in the country to offer the same degree opportunity to both men and women in the same classroom.

The 20 men and five women in the program’s second cohort were accepted out of nearly 300 applicants from across the state of Maryland for the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree from Georgetown. The program is located at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md.

Any type of mixed-gender programming is extremely rare in U.S. prison systems. There are about 600 women incarcerated in the state of Maryland, less than 4 percent of the total prison population. Nearly all incarcerated women are located at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, where Goucher College offers courses.

“Patuxent Institution is a unique correctional facility within Maryland’s prison system in that its mission is to provide specialized treatment services to both men and women who are incarcerated,” said Dr. Erin Shaffer, Patuxent Institution’s Director. “This makes the institution especially skilled at managing the safety and security needs associated with the provision of mixed-gender college programming in a correctional environment.”

Marc Howard, Director the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, said the program looks for the strongest students across the state during its competitive admissions process. Making sure women were included in that search was critical for the program’s second cohort.

“Not only do we owe it to the women incarcerated in Maryland to offer them this opportunity, their presence in the classroom will also enrich every aspect of the program,” Howard said. “Having their voices and perspectives in the classroom will better prepare all of our students to navigate the workplace upon reentry.”

This isn’t the first time Georgetown has offered mixed-gender programming: At the D.C. Jail, the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program has offered co-ed credit-bearing courses since 2018.

An exceptional college education

With the new cohort, there are now 48 Georgetown students at the Patuxent Institution. The first group began their studies in January 2022 and have completed two semesters of courses in writing, philosophy, and statistics.

“The students in our first group have impressed us with their intellect, curiosity, and passion for learning,” Howard said. “We’re excited to welcome a new class of outstanding students to the Georgetown community and to bring a college education to more incarcerated people.”

The program’s goal is to empower students through higher education and create a lasting foundation for academic, professional, and personal growth and achievement moving forward. In doing so, it also creates a larger impact that benefits society as a whole: Access to educational programming in prison is proven to significantly reduce recidivism, and graduates will have greater access to employment, a key component of successful reentry.

“We’re thrilled to have another class begin their Georgetown education at the Patuxent Institution,” said Secretary Robert Green, who leads the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “By earning their degrees, these students will create great opportunities for themselves in the future and create stronger communities.”

The 120-credit interdisciplinary degree, offered through the Georgetown University College of Arts & Sciences, is modeled after undergraduate programs on the university’s Main Campus and comprises a robust liberal arts curriculum. Students will choose from three majors: interdisciplinary social science, cultural humanities, or global intellectual history.

The program is funded by a five-year $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation and support from private donors including Georgetown alumnus Damien Dwin. Georgetown is a Second Chance Pell site, and students also have access to federal Pell grants.

Within five years, 125 students will have been enrolled in the program.

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Prison Scholars