Frequently Asked Questions
The Rochester Education Justice Initiative (REJI), a program of the University of Rochester, fosters higher educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in Western New York. REJI serves as the cornerstone for UR’s evolving prison education and social justice advocacy programming.
There are clear and compelling socioeconomic, moral, and political reasons for promoting higher education in prison. First, education has been shown to effectively reduce recidivism and aid formerly incarcerated people in social reintegration. According to a recent study in New York State, college in prison leads to vastly improved outcomes for individuals “in the areas of health, civic engagement, and intergenerational poverty.” Second, education can be a sustaining force in the lives of men and women in prison, as intellectual pursuits foster for incarcerated students the prospect of a good life despite their present circumstances. Third, as American citizens, we are most complicit with the crisis of mass incarceration when we allow the barrier between the incarcerated and the free to stand unchallenged. By bridging boundaries and bringing incarcerated people into our institutional lives, we can end the dehumanizing invisibility upon which mass incarceration depends.
Rochester has historically been friendly terrain for social justice and civil rights movements. The onetime home of both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, our city is known for being at the heart of campaigns for women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery.
Rochester is also situated in a region with numerous prisons. Within a ninety-minute drive of campus are eleven state and federal correctional facilities: Albion, Attica, Auburn, Five Points, Groveland, Livingston, Orleans, Wende, Wyoming, Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, and Willard Drug Treatment Center. The impact and influence of these institutions extends into the city of Rochester, and into the cultural politics of our campus.
With its talented faculty and students, and its extensive resources, the University of Rochester is especially well suited to engage with the region’s large, yet mostly hidden, incarcerated population, and to inform our community about the challenges incarcerated men and women face both in prison and post-release.
Today, there are about two hundred college-in-prison programs nationwide, some operated by universities and others by non-profit organizations and academic consortia.
Regionally, REJI is in exceptional company. In New York State, several institutions of higher learning are engaged in this effort, including:
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- New York University
- Bard College
- Hobart & William Smith Colleges
- Nazareth College
- Medaille College
- SUNY community colleges, including Genesee Community College
Overall, about one thousand men and women incarcerated in New York are enrolled in individual college courses or in college degree programs.
Outside of New York, many other Research I universities operate prison education programs, including Princeton University, Rutgers University, and Ohio University.
A directory of college-in-prison programs may be found at the Prison Studies Project.
Because the federal government and many states do not offer grants to incarcerated students, most funding for college-in-prison programs comes from philanthropic organizations, individual donors, and universities.
REJI receives generous support from the University of Rochester School of Arts, Sciences & Engineering, and from philanthropic partners in New York State.
In August 2017, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state would award $7 million in grants to several colleges and universities that offer courses in prison, including REJI partners Cornell University and Medaille College. (The University of Rochester is not one of the grantees.) These funds will help make college education more accessible to nearly three thousand incarcerated students at seventeen correctional facilities across the state.
Nationally, incarcerated students seek a range of postsecondary degrees—certificates, associate’s, and bachelor’s—either through in-person instruction or correspondence. Only a tiny handful of universities offer graduate degrees.
Students in the University of Rochester's partnership program with Genesee Community College at Groveland Correctional Facility work toward an associate of science degree in General Studies, for which time-to-completion is about thirty months. Students enrolling with prior credit can complete the degree even sooner.
Graduates of this program are expected to demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to think critically and employ creative problem-solving; develop sufficient background in a humanities or social science discipline to qualify for upper division study; recognize, employ, and assess effective communication skills; demonstrate quantitative reasoning skills; recognize and apply scientific methods to explore social and natural phenomena; demonstrate the basic skills needed to communicate in a foreign language; engage in recognition, analysis, and creation of artistic and literary expression; and demonstrate an awareness of self in connection with academic and personal goals.
Do courses taught in prison by University of Rochester faculty and graduate students count for credit?
Yes, all courses are taught for college credit. Which institution grants credit can depend on the course subject, program site, and semester. REJI students receive credit from the University of Rochester as well our institutional partners: Genesee Community College, Cornell University, Cayuga Community College, and Medaille College.
To eliminate as many barriers to higher education as possible, REJI courses and all related expenses, such as textbooks and school supplies, are free to students.
University of Rochester faculty and advanced graduate students who are interested in teaching a course at a correctional facility, as well as undergraduates who are interested in serving as a teaching assistant, are strongly encouraged to submit a letter of intent on our get involved page.
REJI also organizes guest lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, and other events for the university and local community. These events are free, and all are encouraged to attend!
REJI currently offers up to 12 courses per academic year in area correctional facilities. To date, REJI instructors have taught courses in disciplines as diverse as anthropology, art history, composition, history, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and religious studies.
REJI offers courses in four facilities:
- Groveland Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in Sonyea, NY, which houses about 1,100 men.
- Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Romulus, NY, which houses about 1,500 men
- Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Auburn, NY, which houses about 1,800 men
- Albion Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in Albion, NY, which houses about 1,200 women
REJI's main office is at the University of Rochester River Campus.
A. At this time, REJI compensates some instructors with a stipend; others teach courses "on load," i.e., as one of their regular teaching responsibilities.
All courses REJI offers are taught as rigorously, and with the same academic expectations, as they are in non-prison contexts. Incarcerated students undertake a workload similar to that of non-incarcerated students, including weekly readings from textbooks and supplementary texts, regular written assignments, and long-term research projects. Some take up to five courses per semester in order to fulfill degree requirements. Class sizes are typically under 20 students.
Courses are subject to the approval of the facility where they are taught. Administrators in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision maintain discretion over the curricular materials used at their institutions.
Prison pedagogy entails some limitations not typically encountered in other academic settings. For example, prisons do not have Internet access—many do not make computers available to students at all—and may not be able to accommodate A/V media or scientific equipment.
At this time, REJI does not accept donations of this kind. However, the American Library Association publishes a directory of organizations that do.
Recently, there has been a great deal of in-depth news coverage of and dialogue about higher education in prison. Here are some resources on the topic that may interest you:
(Note: REJI does not necessarily vet or endorse all viewpoints or information on these sites.)