Higher education programs that teach in prisons take on a near impossible task: to provide their students with a high-quality education, equal to anything beyond the prison walls, while working under strict constraints. Incarcerated students rarely have access to learning resources typically taken for granted on the outside—computers, books, and internet access are all heavily restricted by various state Departments of Corrections (DOC)—and instructors must work with and around DOC security protocols while planning and teaching their classes.
There is now growing support for prison reform and prison education programming. In 2016, the Obama administration undertook a pilot, called Second Chance Pell, which aimed to test the restoration of Pell funding for incarcerated students who had been deprived of eligibility by the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. Full restoration of Pell funding for the incarcerated population is currently under consideration, and while this represents a tremendous opportunity, there is an equally pressing need to understand how to best serve this particular student population. As access to information and technology resources is critical to supporting student success, Ithaka S+R has undertaken a qualitative research project to better understand the current landscape and potential opportunities of technology and information resources in postsecondary prison education.