SVCC’s Campus Within Walls
By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.
According to recent statistics, more than 40,000 Virginia residents are serving time in state and federal prisons within the Commonwealth. Eventually, 95% of them will be released. Education is one of the best tools for helping inmates prepare to lead productive lives after they re-enter their communities.
A 2019 RAND Corporation report by Lois M. Davis, “Higher Education Programs in Prison: What We Know Now and What We Should Focus on Going Forward,” observed that many incarcerated individuals have low levels of educational attainment, making it difficult for them to find employment that generates a living wage, and that individuals who participate in education programs while incarcerated are much less likely to be reincarcerated after their release. The report offered this startling fact: “Every dollar invested in prison education programs saves taxpayers, on average, between $4 and $5 in three-year reincarceration costs.”
SVCC views higher education in prison as part of our mission. In cooperation with the Virginia Department of Corrections, we have offered postsecondary education opportunities to incarcerated students since 1985. Prior to 1994, when legislative changes discontinued federal Pell Grants for otherwise-eligible incarcerated students, SVCC held classes in ten correctional centers across our service area. Statistical data suggest that our efforts represented one of the largest inmate college education programs in the nation. After students were cut off from this important source of financial aid for tuition and related costs, we continued to do as much as was possible with grant funding.
In 2009, SVCC took another step by establishing the Campus Within Walls program at the Lunenburg Correctional Center. With philanthropic help from sources such as The Sunshine Lady Foundation, the Laughing Gull Foundation, and local donors, we have been able to provide a limited number of college-ready students the opportunity to earn associate degrees and other industry-recognized credentials.
Lisa Vaughan Jordan, PhD, SVCC’s Campus Within Walls Coordinator, says college education programs in prisons make fiscal sense, and they confer additional benefits. She notes, “Within prison populations, college education programs contribute to institutional safety. They lead to improved self-esteem among students, and they help establish positive role models. College classes prepare incarcerated people to reenter communities as educated, employable, and taxpaying neighbors. Dramatic ripple effects help reunite families, lessen poverty, and improve community public safety.”
Campus Within Walls currently offers face-to-face courses at Baskerville Correctional Center, Lunenburg Correctional Center, Nottoway Correctional Center and Virginia Correctional Center for Women. Dr. Jordan proudly reports, “We have three graduating students who will be released in July.” In addition, she is optimistic about serving increasing numbers in the future because recent legislative initiatives provide a mechanism for reinstating Pell Grant availability to incarcerated students.
By this fall, Campus Within Walls plans to offer classes at the State Farm Correctional Center. Work is also in progress toward completing accreditation requirements that will enable Campus Within Walls to serve the Greensville Correctional Center, the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, and other correctional facilities interested in bringing the Campus Within Walls program to their facilities.
Dr. Jordan says, “Programs for higher education in prison promote lifelong learning that strengthens human character, increases skills and knowledge, and motivates all to engage in productive citizenship.”
For more information about Campus Within Walls, contact Dr. Lisa Jordan at 434-949-6604 or email@example.com.
Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.