Georgetown to Launch Bachelor’s Degree Program at Maryland Prison

University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative expands education opportunities for incarcerated students

Georgetown University will introduce a full bachelor’s degree program for aspiring students incarcerated within the Maryland state prison system. 

The university and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) signed a memorandum of understanding on March 17 that paves the way for the program to begin. The Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI), which leads the program, plans to welcome the first cohort of about 25 students at the maximum-security Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md., in the next academic year.

The degree program builds on PJI’s work to bring credit-bearing Georgetown courses to incarcerated students through its Prison Scholars Program, which has offered a non-degree program at the D.C. Jail since 2018.

“We are excited to build upon the success of the Prison Scholars Program and provide an opportunity for students to earn a college degree while incarcerated,” said PJI Director Marc Howard. “A degree from Georgetown and the interdisciplinary coursework behind it will prepare our graduates to reenter their communities and the workforce with pride in their academic achievements.”

The program creates a transformational education experience for highly motivated students during their incarceration. After their release, many returning citizens struggle to find employment due to their criminal record, a lack of formal education, and large gaps in resumes. The Prison Scholars Program equips them to overcome these hurdles and creates a pathway to financial stability and socioeconomic mobility.

More than 150 people have participated in the Prison Scholars Program at the D.C. Jail, both through credit-bearing and non-credit courses. The expansion of the program into Maryland is funded by a $1 million three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and further supported by Georgetown alumnus Damien Dwin. Georgetown can also offer federal financial aid to qualified students at Patuxent through its designation as a Second Chance Pell Experimental Site.

Incarcerated students during class at the D.C. Jail.

Academic excellence in prison classrooms 

The bachelor’s program is modeled after Georgetown’s on-campus undergraduate programs and brings the university’s academic caliber and rich history of liberal arts in the Jesuit tradition to incarcerated students. 

“Our goal is to provide the same rigorous, demanding courses of study inside of the prison that make a Georgetown education world-class. Incarcerated students have repeatedly shown that they can rise to the challenge,” said PJI Director of Education Joshua Miller. “Combined with Prison Scholars’ talent and unique insight, this degree program will help currently incarcerated students become future leaders in criminal justice reform.”

Students will earn a Bachelor of Liberal Arts with a wide selection of interdisciplinary coursework. After completing the core requirements, students will tailor their degree program to one of three majors: cultural humanities, interdisciplinary social science, or global intellectual history. The degree requires 120 credit hours, and students are expected to complete the program in about five years. To help them throughout their education, they will have access to Georgetown resources including academic support, library and research assistance, and career counseling, as well as comprehensive reentry services. 

Georgetown President John DeGioia said expanding the Prison Scholars Program is the next step in the university’s decades-long history of prison education and outreach.

“As a University, we have a responsibility to advance the common good and empower the members of our community to share in this important work,” DeGioia said. “As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, this commitment has been a long-standing element of Georgetown’s mission, and I’m grateful that this expansion of the Prison Scholars Program will ensure that future leaders who are currently incarcerated will be able to access the Georgetown academic experience as members of our community.”

Admission to the program will likely be competitive. PJI will accept applicants from across the state prison system and evaluate them based on preparedness, motivation, and potential to succeed in the program through both admissions exams and interviews. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED. 

The statewide admissions process is possible thanks to the close partnership with DPSCS, which oversees about 18,000 people. Those selected from other facilities will be transferred to Patuxent Institution to begin classes with the rest of their cohort. 

Incarcerated students and visitors at an event.

Equipping incarcerated students for success 

The Prison Scholars Program seeks to be a model for successful reentry and reintegration, demonstrating that college education in jails and prisons reduces recidivism and costs, creates safer communities and stronger families, and greatly enhances the employment prospects of returning citizens. 

In opening its doors to Georgetown faculty and the Prison Scholars Program, DPSCS furthers its own efforts to provide rehabilitative opportunities for incarcerated people. Patuxent Institution has a long history of offering the state prison system’s most robust rehabilitation and treatment programming.

“We welcome the opportunity to offer higher education from a prestigious university within our corrections system,” said Robert Green, DSPCS Secretary. “The Prison Scholars Program opens doors from incarceration to employment and will help its students contribute positively to their communities post-release.”

About the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative: 

The Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI) was founded in 2016 to address the national crisis of mass incarceration, one of the most urgent moral and political issues of our time. In addition to an extensive series of academic and policy events, PJI offers innovative courses to Georgetown undergraduates, including the Making an Exoneree course that involves direct advocacy on behalf of wrongfully convicted people. Additionally, PJI has developed several programs serving incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in the D.C. area. The Prison Scholars Program offers Georgetown credit-bearing courses for incarcerated students, and the Pivot Program allows returning citizens to earn a certificate in business and entrepreneurship. In all of its programming, PJI works to better understand the causes and consequences of the mass incarceration crisis, contribute to bipartisan solutions for effective reform, and improve the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in the D.C. area and beyond.

Contact: Evelyn Rupert, Director of Communications 

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Prison Scholars