Parolee Marcus Harvin’s path from incarceration to higher education exemplifies the transformative impact of a game-changing collaboration between the University of New Haven (UNH) and the Yale Prison Education Initiative. Through this partnership, Harvin—who spent six years in prison for drinking and driving— and six other men were the program’s first class to graduate, gained associate degrees in general studies. This unique program allows jailed people to pursue higher education and open the door to a brighter future.
Opening doors and instilling hope
For Marcus Harvin and many others, the opportunity to study at Yale while incarcerated is nothing short of life-changing. The Yale Prison Education Initiative, founded in 2016, aims to have a generational impact by changing not only the lives of individual students but also the institutions involved. Through a collaboration with UNH, the program expanded its reach, paving the way for student-inmates to achieve two and four-year college degrees. This group of 15 schools and jail systems from across the country is breaking down barriers and promoting hope in the correctional system.
“We believe that this is a transformative program, that it has the potential to make a generational impact,” says Zelda Roland, Director of the Yale-UNH cooperation. “We believe that we’re transforming not just individual students’ lives, but also the institutions that we work in, both the universities and correctional system.”
Governor Ned Lamont addressed the graduates during the graduation ceremony, highlighting their ability to shape their own destinies. He recognized the need of learning from the past but urged them to leave a positive legacy through their future achievements. According to research, giving higher education options in prisons greatly reduces behavioral problems and lowers recidivism rates. This program allows jailed inmates to break the cycle of crime and become productive members of society by providing them with information and skills.
“We define our own futures and today is the start of that,” Governor Lamont said. “What happens in your future is going to be your legacy. And I want you to have a really important story to tell.”
Within the prison system, only a small minority of inmates have access to higher education. However, studies have consistently shown that such programs have a positive impact, with lower rates of behavioral disorders during jail and decreased recidivism after release. Aside from the practical rewards, education instills optimism and a sense of purpose. The classroom transforms into a haven, providing a respite from the restrictions of prison and sparking a revitalized feeling of possibility.
As Harvin put it, the opportunity to earn his degree is “the light at the end of the tunnel that gives the day illumination.” He adds: “When you get to those classes, you don’t feel like you’re in prison. You actually go from being in a cell to being kind of, sort of on a campus. You literally feel like you’re not in the same place anymore.”
Meaningful transformation and rehabilitation through education
The UNH-Yale collaboration is a shining example of change, giving jailed people a second chance at a better future. By increasing access to higher education, this initiative not only increases career options but also fosters personal growth and self-esteem. These students are distinguished not only by their missteps in the past, but also by their resilience, determination, and capacity for positive transformation.
As the Yale-UNH collaboration continues to lead the way for education within the penitentiary system, it serves as a model for others to emulate. We can empower incarcerated people, unlock their potential, and develop a society that values redemption, rehabilitation, and the transformational power of education.