The Prison University Project

The Prison University Project

San Quentin State Prison is known for hardened criminals. Sitting on a point overlooking the lovely skyline of San Francisco in California, San Quentin has a long history. And yet within these prison walls is the Prison University Project.

The mission of the Prison University Project is “to provide excellent higher education programs to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison; to create a replicable model for such programs; and to stimulate public awareness and meaningful dialogue about higher education and criminal justice in California.”

One of the goals of the Prison University Project is to challenge popular myths and stereotypes about people in prison, to publicly raise fundamental questions about the practice of incarceration and to provide alternate concepts of justice-and mainly to provide quality higher education to inmates.

Every June teachers, family members of students, media representatives, and supporters of the program gather to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating class.

The Prison University Project began after the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act barred people in prison from receiving Pell Grants for education. This law virtually shut down all prison education in the U.S.

Because of this single piece of legislation, most prison education has been privately funded. The Prison University Project began in 1996 and is fiscally sponsored by the Tides Center, which is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco which provides fiscal sponsorship to progressive programs, including prison education. The Prison University Project also relies on private donations.

The Prison University Project at San Quentin is an extension of Patten University, which is an accredited independent university in Oakland, California. The college provides 20 courses each semester including, humanities, social sciences, math, science and preparatory courses in math and English.

In addition to going to school, the prison inmates also hold full-time jobs inside the prison. With working full-time and attending school classes it can take students about 3 years to complete their AA degrees. This program does encourage the inmates to seek further higher education once they are released from San Quentin.

Please read further here to see the Associate of Arts Degree Program with the Prison University Project.