The Georgia State University Prison Education Project (GSUPEP) began in 2016 through a partnership with Common Good Atlanta at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Ga with an English Composition I course taught to a cohort of 15 students serving time within the prison. These students were granted admission to the college and were expected to meet the same course objectives as in other Perimeter College classes. Students who successfully completed the course could earn Perimeter College credit.
GSUPEP continues to develop partnerships with other nonprofit groups, such as Reforming Arts, to bring a full associate degree program to women incarcerated at Lee-Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Ga. The project also is providing for-credit college courses at Walker State Prison in Rock Spring, Ga, enrichment courses at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, and the Atlanta Transition Center.
The prison education project’s success, in part, depends upon its efforts to train college instructors to work in the prison setting. Project staff also coordinate events in colleges and area businesses to raise awareness about prison reform and reentry and gather books and supporting materials for instruction inside prisons.
The Georgia State University Prison Education Project works to bring higher education into prisons, to facilitate education for those who have been incarcerated, and to educate our on-campus students about issues of mass incarceration. Educational opportunities during incarceration has been shown to reduce recidivism, improve employment opportunities, and promote self-worth. GSUPEP offers support and opportunity to incarcerated students to promote lifelong learning that strengthens human character, increases understanding of life experiences and motivates students to engage in productive citizenship.
Please contact Dr. Owen Cantrell or call 770.274.5618 if you are interested in learning more, booking a speaker for an event, or donating books or supplies.
What is the Georgia State University Prison Education Project?
The Georgia State University Prison Education Project (GSUPEP) is a programmatic initiative of Perimeter College that provides college education to incarcerated people in Georgia, assists formerly incarcerated people in reentering society, and educates our on-campus student population about incarceration and criminal justice.
When and how did the project begin?
Many of the staff members of GSUPEP have been teaching in prisons for years. We banded together in the spring of 2016 and proposed a project to our administration that summer. In the fall of 2016, GSUPEP began. We offered our first for-credit course at Phillips State Prison for men through a partnership with Common Good Atlanta in the spring of 2017.
What facilities do you serve?
Currently we work in the following facilities:
- Phillips State Prison (for men)
- Walker State Prison (for men)
- Atlanta’s United States Penitentiary (for men)
- Atlanta Transitional Center (for men)
- Hancock State Prison (for men)
- Lee Arrendale State Prison (for women)
- Whitworth Women’s Facility (for women)
If you would like programming in your facility, please contact us.
Who can participate?
Students in the for-credit prison classes must be incarcerated in state or federal prison in the State of Georgia, meet their warden’s requirements for educational participation, pass the Accuplacer exam and be admitted to the college. Wardens set different requirements for participation, but most require a length of time without disciplinary problems to participate. Students must have a GED or high school diploma and must meet most of the same requirements as college students in traditional settings. Most classes contain 15-20 students.
Who teaches in the program?
GSUPEP courses are staffed with Perimeter College professors. All instructors are required to be qualified to teach college courses, and all instructors teach in their areas of specialty. All instructors are paid employees of Perimeter College.
What kind of training is required for professors?
Teaching in a prison is an emotionally and physically taxing enterprise. To prepare our teachers, we require several levels of training. All professors must complete the necessary volunteer training for their facility (three to four hours per year) in which they learn the process of entering and leaving prisons, legal obligations and restrictions on them while in the prisons and what to do in cases of emergency. These training sessions are run through the Georgia Department of Corrections or the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition, GSUPEP requires faculty to take a training session we lead at Perimeter College. This training focuses on issues of pedagogy, adapting classes for non-tech classrooms, accommodating special needs and power dynamics in a prison setting. In addition, we keep in close contact with our faculty during the semester to support them and help them manage any issues that arise.
Does GSUPEP offer degrees?
Yes. Our students are admitted as degree-seeking students. Should they be released before they finish their degree, we encourage them to continue their education on one of our five campuses in the Atlanta area (Alpharetta, Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody or Newton) or through our Online Campus.
How is GSUPEP funded? How is money spent?
GSUPEP is funded through private donations and grants. While Perimeter College has the most affordable tuition in the state of Georgia, it still costs approximately $7,500 for a student to earn an associate degree from Perimeter College, even while attending full time. Almost all of our donations are spent on tuition, books and other fees associated with college education.
How can I get involved?
Donating to our program helps us to serve more students. Click on the Give [link] tab above to find out how far your donation can go.
GSUPEP also accepts book donations to help build libraries at the facilities. We especially welcome publisher donations of textbooks. Please contact us to set up a drop-off or pickup of books.
If you are interested in teaching, you must be available to be hired as an adjunct teacher by Perimeter College and must hold accredited degrees in the subject area you would like to teach. We give teaching preference to our current professors, but always welcome a new face.
The following chart, based on data from the World Prison Brief at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, University of London, and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), shows the rate of incarceration for selected countries around the world, as well as for individual states in the United States. The numbers are per 100,000 people. Georgia’s incarceration rate is 503 per 100,000 people.
“Participation in correctional education programs is associated with a 13 percentage-point reduction in the risk of reincarceration three years following release.”
“On average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not.”
“We found that providing correctional education to prisoners is cost-effective compared with the direct costs of reincarceration. We also note that the results are likely to be conservative, because they do not include the indirect costs of reincarceration.”
— “How Effective is Correctional Education?,” RAND Corp. Research Report 2014
“I lived in the prison system as an inmate for five years, due to no one’s fault but my own. I was away from my family, away from the life I knew. My descent was into a world so dark, I wondered if I would survive–my soul was troubled.”
“Over the last 22 years, I have worked with thousands of college students. When I leave a class that has been lively and engaging, I am energized; I know the students have learned; I know we have accomplished something together. As a teacher, there is no better feeling.”
“My reasons for teaching in prisons have changed over the years. I started because I watched a person I love sit behind bars with nothing productive to do with his time; when I started, it was a way for me to reach out to the men and women behind bars who most people never contact or think about.”