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WVU Higher Education in Prison Initiative

Appalachian Prison Book Project logo

The WVU Higher Education in Prison Initiative (WVU HEPI) promotes educational access and equity in the Appalachian region. Beginning in Fall 2022, WVU HEPI will offer credit-bearing college classes and an Associate Degree program to students in a maximum-security prison.

This initiative will extend the significant benefits of a college education to people with the least access. College classes in prison generate hope, direction, and purpose. High-quality degree programs also improve the quality of life for those who live and work in prison.

This initiative developed from a 17-year partnership between West Virginia University and the Appalachian Prison Book Project, an educational justice nonprofit in Morgantown. APBP provides free books to people incarcerated in six states, creates book clubs in prison, and generates conversations about mass incarceration and restorative justice.  

Person places books on a shelf

(Photo credit: Raymond Thompson, Jr. )

WVU has been offering Inside-Out Prison Exchange classes at state and federal prisons for many years. Inside-Out classes bring on-campus students and incarcerated students together to take a class inside prison. In recent years, WVU Inside-Out classes became credit-bearing for all students. APBP paid costs for tuition and books for inside students. The new degree program will consist of both Inside-Out and regular college classes.

Women places book on a library shelf

(Photo credit: Raymond Thompson, Jr. )

WVU HEPI has been awarded a three-year grant ($65,000/year) by the Laughing Gull Foundation to support the following goals:

  • Offer credit-bearing classes to incarcerated students and create a pathway to an Associate Degree 
  • Extend educational opportunities beyond classrooms into the general population  
  • Seek out and develop leadership from people directly impacted by the criminal punishment system     
  • Provide support to returning citizens who want to pursue higher education 
  • Integrate restorative practices and a commitment to racial justice into everyday operations

For more information, contact Director Katy Ryan kohearnr@mail.wvu.edu and Program Coordinator Rayna Momen rmomen@mix.wvu.edu