The Charger Blog

University Celebrates Impact and Growth of Prison Education Program

The University of New Haven Prison Education Program and the Yale Prison Education Initiative are collaborating to create transformative educational opportunities for incarcerated students. The Charger and local communities recently came together to support the program and reflect on how it is making an important difference in the lives of students.

May 2, 2024

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communication

Marcus Harvin ’23 A.A., ’25, one of the inaugural graduates of the program, and University President-Elect Frederiksen, Ph.D.
Marcus Harvin ’23 A.A., ’25, one of the inaugural graduates of the program, and University President-Elect Frederiksen, Ph.D.

For Alpha Jalloh ’23 A.A., the pandemic was a trying, even tumultuous time. As an incarcerated individual, tensions in the prison were high during the pandemic. But Jalloh discovered solace and a sense of community through his education.

Jalloh remembers taking part in a study session, and despite what he describes as the “chaos unfolding” around them, he and his classmates came together in the recreational room to study their textbooks and share their insights with each other. This was a meaningful opportunity for the students to discover a passion for learning and to appreciate the power of education while incarcerated.

Alpha Jalloh ’23 A.A.
Alpha Jalloh ’23 A.A.

Jalloh and his classmates had the opportunity to pursue their associate degrees as part of the University of New Haven Prison Education Program and the Yale Prison Education Initiative. He was among the program’s inaugural graduating class, one of seven graduates to accept their degrees at a ceremony at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn., last June. He recently shared his story and the impact of his education as part of a program celebration and fundraiser.

“The bonds of friendship and camaraderie we had forged were palpable, serving as a beacon of light in the darkness of our surroundings,” recalled Jalloh. “Our sense of community extended beyond the walls of the classroom; it permeated every aspect of our daily lives. Whether it was sharing books, helping each other with assignments, or simply offering words of encouragement, we were united in our shared commitment to learning and growth.”

‘Dignity, respect, and humanity’

The University received a $1.5 million dollar grant in 2021 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund the program, in collaboration with the Yale Prison Education Initiative, and the program is continuing to create transformative opportunities for students. In addition to offering the program at MacDougall, the program has expanded to include the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., a women’s prison. It’s the only college-in-prison program for women incarcerated in a federal prison in the U.S., and the first degrees will be awarded this year.

Michael Rossi, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty and curriculum in the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Zelda Roland, Ph.D., founding director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative and the University's Prison Education Program, collaborated to secure the grant funding. Dr. Roland says there is a “need and desire” for these programs.

“Our program’s core philosophy is about extending access to the tremendous education that students receive on campus to students in prison,” said Dr. Roland. “It’s about treating students inside with the same dignity, respect, and humanity, and also with the same potential, that we see in students on campus.”

Zelda Roland, Ph.D., speaks as part of the event.
Zelda Roland, Ph.D., speaks as part of the event.
‘This program is also about extending access’

The recent celebration was a fun and meaningful way to highlight the importance of the program, as well as the impact it is already having on students. The event raised funds to support the program, which is continuing to expand and offer incarcerated students the chance to earn degrees.

Another 10 students are expected to earn associate degrees this year. Dr. Roland is excited that the first two bachelor’s degrees in interdisciplinary studies will also be awarded – the first bachelor of arts degrees in Connecticut made possible by the restoration of Second Chance Pell Grant access. (A restoration of Pell Grant access for incarcerated students was piloted under the Obama Administration’s Department of Education.)

“This program is also about extending access to the many kinds of support students on campus receive,” adds Dr. Roland. “It includes the kind of soft skills, social networks, and professional development and mentorship opportunities that students on campus receive.”

‘I found a sense of agency’

The program brings together University faculty such as Bradley Woodworth, Ph.D., and Mary Isbell, Ph.D., a history and a English professor, respectively, to teach courses. The event highlighted their experiences as well as the impact they’ve had on the lives of their students.

State Rep. Toni Walker and Prof. William Carbone.
State Rep. Toni Walker and Prof. William Carbone.

The celebration also highlighted state leaders and included members of the local community. As part of the event, William Carbone, MPA, a distinguished lecturer of criminal justice and executive director of justice programs and the University’s Tow Youth Justice Institute, presented an advocacy award to State Rep. Toni Walker for her commitment to social justice and the state’s youth justice system.

For Jalloh, the recent grad, the program, the faculty, and the new educational opportunities have already made a difference. He says that education offered hope and a real sense of empowerment.

“In those solitary moments of study, I found a sense of agency, a reminder that despite my circumstances, I still had the power to shape my own destiny,” he explained. “Education became not just a means of acquiring knowledge, but a catalyst for personal growth, self-discovery, and ultimately, transformation.”