Liberation and Learning

Building Just Communities


With more than two million people currently incarcerated—about one quarter of the total number of people imprisoned worldwide—the United States is the world’s most-incarcerated nation. Education programs for people living in prison are an important counterforce to the large-scale social impact of the criminal legal system, which disproportionately harms communities of color. Through its Higher Learning program, the Mellon Foundation has made more than 85 grants in the past seven years to strengthen and expand degree-granting programs for currently and formerly incarcerated students, and will continue its work in this area. 
Access to books for incarcerated people—and to the self-discovery that reading can catalyze—should not be limited to students enrolled in college courses; books should be available to all who seek them. As part of its new strategic plan, Mellon has also partnered with Yale Law School and poet Dwayne Betts to launch Freedom Reads (formerly known as the Million Book Project) to bring 500-book “freedom libraries” to prisons across the US. Each library will be both a resource and a symbol of freedom, restoring hope, dignity, and meaning by providing full access to the intellectual life of America to all people—including those who are, or have been, incarcerated. 

Top photo credit: Robert Huskey/Cal State LA

Total grants since 2020
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