February 12, 2014
The Prison University Project (PUP) is the only onsite education program in the state of California that offers prisoners the opportunity to earn a college degree. PUP serves the inmates at San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest and most notorious correctional facility, and is one of the largest prison education programs in the nation. By all indications, PUP has been extremely successful. For example, although the recidivism rate in the State of California was nearly 70% in 2012, the recidivism rate for PUP graduates was only 19%. The PUP recidivism rate for new offenses was even lower, at 4%. And in the 12 years that the program has been collecting data on its more than 1000 students, not a single PUP graduate has ever returned to prison for committing a violent crime.
To improve its performance, attract funding, and expand to other prisons, PUP must conduct a more systematic evaluation of its activities and impacts. SPARQ Faculty Director Jennifer Eberhardt and Postdoctoral Fellow Rebecca Hetey are partnering with PUP to launch that evaluation effort this fall. The evaluation will measure outcomes well beyond recidivism, including employment successes and struggles, mental and physical health, and civic engagement. We will also aim to understand the social psychological mechanisms through which PUP’s program brings about positive life changes. To our knowledge, this will be the first-ever evaluation of a prison education program’s effects on such a wide variety of outcomes.