Why College in Prison

“In class last year, we questioned roles that society creates for us, and I realized I don’t want to wake up one day and resent my life because I allowed society to choose it for me. Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but they no longer have the power to shape my future or who I am. True resilience is found in knowing who you are in a world that you can so easily become lost in, and discovering a passion for something worth living for.” – Gail


In 1994, Congress eliminated all federal funding for college in prison. By the next year, 350 college programs closed.   The prison system is filled with people who have never had access to higher education opportunities, with the vast majority of the men and women incarcerated in the United States coming from under-resourced communities and communities of color.

Access to meaningful, high quality, sustained higher educational opportunities can transform the lives of individuals in prison, their families and the communities to which they return.


The inverse relationship between educational attainment and returning to prison is steep. According to a 2013 Rand Corporation study, those who go to college while incarcerated are 45% less likely to return to prison than those who do not. The United States currently incarcerates a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. Women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population, and African-American and Native-American women are disproportionately represented in the prison population. Most of the women in prison never finished high school.



$1 = $2

For every $1 invested in education in prison, taxpayers save $2 in re-incarceration costs.

$1m prevents 350 600 crimes

$1 million spent on incarceration prevents 350 crimes, whereas $1 million spent on education programs prevents 600 crimes.

Educational Focus

A college program makes the prison safer for staff and other prisoners when the prisoners’ focus is on being a student.


Women in Washington prisons have often accrued significant debt; carry the stigma of incarceration; remain under-educated and barred from employment opportunities. This traps them in a cycle of poverty and a greater risk of their children being imprisoned.

Higher education can break this cycle.

Part of our college program consists in imparting the skills and environment that enables women in prison to begin to imagine themselves as students with a purpose and vision for their lives.


Just imagine how much the world could change if all lost and broken women could receive the opportunity of education that I am blessed with…money and time invested into a 5-credit class is such a small price to pay to give and get a life of freedom.”

-FEPPS student, Ginger Pratt

Most women incarcerated at Mission Creek and WCCW have had minimal access to education, come from impoverished backgrounds, and never finished high school.

Many women report having struggled with depression, substance abuse and addiction prior to incarceration.  All of these factors contribute to the growing incarceration rates of women in Washington.

Women who pursue higher education return to their communities and families with increased psychological stability and a significantly reduced likelihood of being involved in drug-use, crime and violence. This is crucial considering that the majority of our students are mothers.

75% have children under eighteen for whom they will be the main care-taker upon release.

Over 85% of our students have been victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault.