Mellon Foundation Awards Emergency Grants to Prison Education Programs as COVID Crisis Continues

graduate in cap and gown with university administrators Northwestern Prison Education Program students. Photo courtesy of Northwestern University.

NEW YORK, NY, August 6, 2020 – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation today announced the award of 15 emergency grants totaling $1.5 million for providers of higher education in prison. The grants will allow incarcerated students across the nation to continue learning while in-person instruction is paused as part of ongoing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.  
 
Since March, the pandemic has transformed teaching and learning across America, forcing educators of all kinds to dramatically adjust their approaches and adapt to remote instruction. The same is true for higher education providers in prisons.
 
Prison education providers will use the grants to experiment with virtual classrooms, retain key staff, and plan for 2020–21 instruction.
 
“The Mellon Foundation believes in each and every student’s humanity,” said Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “Expanding access to higher education is an essential step in the creation of a more just and equitable society. Millions of our fellow human beings are incarcerated in US prisons, and these grants will help ensure that even during the COVID crisis, these students have meaningful educational support as they pursue new knowledge and ideas.”
 
Support for prison education providers is an important part of the Foundation’s commitment to higher learning—outlined in its recently announced new strategic framework—as a pathway to self-discovery, civic engagement, community building, liberation, and the belief that the beauty, transcendence, and freedom found in education must be made available to all. The Foundation’s goal is to strengthen inclusive, multivocal humanities education that supports the envisioning and sustaining of more robustly engaged and just societies.
 
Recent initiatives by the Mellon Foundation related to prison education include the Million Book Project, which will enrich—and in some cases, seed—libraries in all medium- and maximum-security men’s prison facilities, all women’s prison facilities, and at least one juvenile detention center in all 50 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico with a curated, 500-book collection that is both testament to and an engine of the transformative power of literature. 
 
Since 2015, the Foundation has awarded nearly $27.5 million to 24 organizations providing college- and university-level instruction in US prisons. These grantees have established outstanding programming that expands educational opportunity, respects the dignity and humanity of incarcerated people, and encourages a reevaluation of the role of incarceration in American society.
 
The $1.5 million in new emergency grants announced today will be awarded to the following institutions that support prison education providers:

California State University, Los Angeles

Columbia University

Cornell University

Georgetown University

Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, Inc

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Marymount Manhattan College

New York University

Northwestern University

Prison University Project (Mt Tamalpais College)

Pitzer College

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey at Newark

University of Puget Sound

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Wesleyan University


The Foundation also recently issued a call for proposals from US organizations and programs that focus on humanities-centered visionary higher learning educational practices for incarcerated students. This competition is open to prison education programs that confer university or college credit toward degree-granting programs, and to organizations whose mission includes the analysis and support of higher education in prison. Winners will be announced December 11, 2020, and grants ranging from $250,000 to $1,000,000 will be issued thereafter.  
 
About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.

For more information, contact

Laura Washington
Director of Communications
lw@mellon.org