HBCUs Are Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline With College Opportunities for Formerly Incarcerated People

Programs at Howard University and Lane College are giving formerly incarcerated people a fresh start.

Smiling Black student hugs

Being incarcerated can often be a lifetime sentence, even after someone is released from prison. Finding a job, securing housing, rebuilding credit, and living a normal life can be challenging. Education is also out of reach, thus hindering the ability to create a better future.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country are trying to change the typical experience for incarcerated people of color. They are changing lives by creating and investing in new prison-to-college education programs. Schools like Howard University, Claflin University, and Lane College are working to help formerly incarcerated people graduate from college.

"I remember feeling like I had no way of cleaning my life up after I was released from prison," says Adrienne Gates who was incarcerated for two years and is now a tax expert and financial counselor.

"I knew I wanted better but didn't know how to get there. I am excited about the possibilities for these HBCU programs to support those who have a past but aim to be better and live better," says Gates. "I believe I would have seen success much sooner if programs like this were available for me. Every person deserves a second chance to right their wrongs; this program gives them the foundation to do so."

HBCUs Have Always Been Innovative

These prison-to-college pipeline programs are just one example of the versatility and forward-thinking strategy that HBCUs have employed since their founding in 1837. HBCUs were founded on the principle of doing more with less and thriving despite starting from a systematically disadvantaged place.

"HBCUs are incredibly innovative in the way they provide access and resources to students who are historically underserved," says Claudia Walker, a proud second-generation HBCU graduate of Spelman College and author of the best-selling book series, The ABCs of HBCUs.

"HBCUs attract a wide variety of students–top caliber talent, but there's also a story of attracting students from economically disadvantaged communities," says Walker. "Now with these new prison-to-college programs, they're investing in those who were incarnated. This is good news, but not surprising because this has always been the work of HBCUs."

Walker notes that HBCUs first existed when people of African descent were enslaved. These institutions were created to educate formerly enslaved people because they understood access to education was the greatest form of liberation.

"HBCUs are again standing in the gap with these programs and giving people an option to rebuild their lives. HBCUs are as important today as they were in 1837 when they were founded," says Walker.

These Programs Reduce Recidivism and Improve Economic Opportunities

Prison education programs have been proven to reduce formerly incarnated people's chance of repeating the behaviors that got them locked up. These programs teach skills that can be used to get a job, start a business, and attain more life skills.

HBCUs offering these prison education programs give incarcerated people of color a second chance. According to a McKinsey study, HBCUs produce economic opportunities, positively impacting the African American community.

"As an HBCU grad from the illustrious North Carolina A&T SU and a mom of three black boys, I am absolutely for this program," says Ileka Falette, an entrepreneur and international speaker.

"The Pre-K to prison pipeline is real; so many are being weaned for this from a very young age in our community. Knowing that so many return to prison after that first time due to a lack of resources and discrimination when stepping back into society, having a program like this at HBCUs is exactly what we need," says Falette.

Falette believes that HBCUs serve students from a lot of diverse backgrounds, from private school kids to those from inner cities, and would welcome Black men and women who've made some mistakes to be able to step back into society and live the life they deserve after "paying their debt."

HBCUs are changing lives for incarcerated people of color with prison-to-college education programs. This is one way to address and break down the systematic inequality that has kept Black families disadvantaged for far too long.

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