Educational program aims to lower recidivism rates, improve quality of life for inmates

$100K grant from Cummings Foundation will fund Tisch College at Tufts University program that supports associate degrees for people in a Massachusetts correctional institution
An instructor leads classes for inmates at a correctional institution in Massachusetts
Hilary Binda, TUPIT director, leads a course with TUPIT students at a Massachusetts correctional institution. (Image courtesy Massachusetts Department of Correction)
June 28, 2019

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Robin Smyton

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (June 28, 2019)—A $100,000 grant from Cummings Foundation will support the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College (TUPIT), which provides top-tier college classes to incarcerated men at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, a medium security prison in Massachusetts, giving inmates the opportunity to earn an associate degree before their release from prison and return to society.

Through providing educational opportunities that lower recidivism rates, TUPIT aims to improve self-esteem, cultivate resilience, foster hope in the future, transform the prison environment and provide a pathway to employment for the majority of its students who will be released.

College in prison programs are shown to reduce recidivism, lower crime rates, increase employability, help make prisons safer and offer educational opportunities to populations who may not have had access before due to socio-economic circumstances and systematic inequities.

Students in the TUPIT program are selected through a competitive admissions process and earn transferable college credit from Tufts. Since Tufts does not offer an associate degree generally, TUPIT developed a relationship with Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) in Charlestown, Mass. Through TUPIT, Tufts provides courses and most faculty members, while BHCC will grant the degree.

Funds from the Cummings grant – to be disbursed over three years – will pay for students' course materials and small stipends for the faculty members who teach TUPIT courses, which are in addition to their usual course load. The program's goal is to graduate all 25 students in this year's "class" in December 2021 with an associate degree in the liberal arts, a degree that also facilitates continuing one's education in a bachelor's degree program. TUPIT has so far worked with approximately 80 incarcerated people in a variety of programs and facilities.

"A game-changing program like TUPIT fights systemic barriers to education access and betters the lives of these men, both in prison and at home after their release," said Alan Solomont, dean of Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. "This innovative program supports the civic lives of the participants and helps to build more resilient communities."

The National Institute of Justice reports that more than 75 percent of people released from state prisons are reincarcerated within five years. In Massachusetts, the Council of State Governments Justice Center reported that the recidivism rate is 31.6 percent after three years.

However, studies that focus on the impact of college education have consistently found that the national recidivism rate for individuals who receive a college education drops below 10 percent. When those students earn a degree, the recidivism rate drops even further, some studies suggest to below 2 percent.

"The participants in this program are hungry for the opportunities they missed, and are among the most dedicated, energetic and hard-working students my fellow faculty members and I have known anywhere," said Hilary Binda, founding director of TUPIT and senior lecturer at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts University. "For many, being in the TUPIT program at MCI-Concord doesn't provide a 'second chance'—it provides a first chance."

Course offerings include, among others, Introduction to Biology, Poetry, Health and Human Rights, Acting Shakespeare, International Law and Civil Society, Drawing, the History of African American Music, and Quantitative Reasoning.

"Studying these varied topics encourages students to develop curiosity, self-esteem, empathy, and the critical skills of collaboration that are the foundation for civic leadership," said Binda.

Participating Tufts faculty include renowned and award-winning scholars. They represent diverse academic disciplines and come from many of Tufts' schools, including the School of Arts and Sciences, SMFA at Tufts, the School of Medicine, the School of Dental Medicine and The Fletcher School.

Through its relationship with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, this innovative program hopes to also track data to measure changes in students' levels of involvement in reported prison incidents. Additionally, the program plans to track employment and recidivism rates after graduates are released. If the program is successful, it could serve as a framework for other university-prison programs.

In addition to receiving generous support from the Cummings Foundation, TUPIT raised over $20,000 through the Tufts Crowdfunding platform.

Woburn, Massachusetts-based Cummings Foundation, Inc., was established in 1986 by Tufts alumnus and trustee emeritus Bill Cummings and his wife, Joyce Cummings. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn, Massachusetts. Its largest single commitment to date has been to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Additional information is available at CummingsFoundation.org.

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About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.