San Quentin’s Prison University Project (PUP) is the state of California’s only on-site, degree-granting college program for prison inmates. Like many nonprofits, PUP wants to evaluate its methods and results so that it can increase its impact, attract new funding, and scale to other prisons. But also like many nonprofits, PUP lacks the expertise to undertake such an evaluation. SPARQ affiliates first helped clarify PUP’s logic model, offered evaluation design ideas, and suggested new interventions. Because PUP’s goals dovetailed with the research interests of several faculty, SPARQ later took on PUP’s evaluation as a Special Project.
“Criminological approaches to prison education view the criminal as a kind of hazardous waste that must be changed from bad to good,” says Jody Lewen, executive director of PUP. “SPARQ has given us a better way to think about, measure, and improve the subjective experiences of our students. We can now conceptualize success in a much more ambitious and humane way.”