The United States of America currently incarcerates 2.2 million people. We have more people behind bars than any other country.

The people in America’s prisons are disproportionately from minority, low-income, and socially marginalized communities. The experience of incarceration and the consequences of having been to prison - including institutionalized barriers to social welfare programs, housing, employment, voting, higher education, and more - leaves formerly incarcerated people even more likely to remain poor and marginalized. Though the United States spends upwards of $86 billion on corrections each year, incarcerated people are given few resources to facilitate successful re-entry. 90 percent of incarcerated people will be released, but 40 percent will return to prison within three years. Cyclical recidivism weakens communities and families and, in doing so, perpetuates social and economic inequalities.

Education has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most effective ways to decrease both crime and the financial and societal costs of incarceration.

Researchers at UCLA’s Department of Policy Studies found that while $1 million spent on corrections prevents 350 crimes, the same amount spent on education in prisons prevents 600 crimes.  A recent study by the RAND Corporation determined that those who participated in correctional education programs were 43% less likely to return to prison than those who did not. Beyond reducing recidivism, education also positions people to successfully re-enter society and make positive impacts on their families and communities.

Providing high quality education programs in correctional facilities is both challenging and costly.

The literacy level of incarcerated people is well below that of the general population, and between 35 and 40 percent of people in prison have not completed high school.  For these reasons, there is a high need for quality education at a variety of learning levels. Meeting the needs of all students is challenging in the best of classrooms, and classrooms in correctional facilities face the additional challenge of underfunding. In 1994, Congress prohibited people in prison from receiving Federal Pell Grants, significantly reducing higher education programs in correctional facilities. Since the economic recession, many Departments of Corrections have had to cut resources for all educational programming. These cuts further limit the Departments’ ability to provide the variety of programs and resources that would best meet the educational needs of incarcerated people.

This is where the Petey Greene Program is working to make a difference.

Since 2008, the Petey Greene Program has been actively working to supplement education programs in correctional facilities – at no cost to prisons or taxpayers. 


We recruit, train, and coordinate volunteers, typically undergraduate and graduate students, to tutor in education programs in prisons and jails.

Since 2007, we have built connections between universities and local departments of corrections, helping to facilitate meaningful educational programming for incarcerated men and women.

We provide supplemental educational resources to corrections departments at no charge to their facilities. Our enthusiastic, knowledgeable volunteers can work one-on-one with students that need extra assistance, allowing teachers to focus on moving the class forward.  

Our tutors provide individualized assistance and model helpful study habits.  When integrated into existing programs, this supplemental service can significantly improve learning outcomes.

We train our tutors through workshops on adult education, cultural humility, and tutoring skills among other topics. Training is designed to prepare volunteers to be effective tutors as well as to promote dialogue and reflection about the overall tutoring experience.  During trainings, our staff facilitates conversations about the challenges of volunteering in a correctional facility, individual privilege - especially in relation to access to education, and our tutors' work within the context of broader criminal justice and public education issues in the United States.

For more information on our program sites, please visit our program-specific pages.


The most incredible part of the program was how it brought me into a world so close to home and yet so foreign. Reflecting now on my last four years at Princeton, I am surprised at the few times I was able to genuinely engage with the deep social problems that exist in our surrounding community. However, through the Petey Greene Program, I learned a tremendous amount in a very short time about the nature of incarceration in New Jersey and about the challenges and opportunities for prison education and re-entry programs.
— Henry Barmeier, Princeton ’10 and a Rhodes Scholar


In 2013 the NJ Department of Corrections (NJ DOC) conducted a quantitative analysis of the effects of the Petey Greene Program in five NJ DOC facilities. This study, entitled “Petey Greene: Impact Evaluation,” analyzed the key metrics of our program and found that students who participated in our program achieved statistically significant improvements in their math and reading functional levels as compared with those who did not. Participation in the Petey Greene Program was also associated with higher GED passing rates.*

The study, which controlled for demographic and sentencing factors, used a rigorous matching design to measure differences in test score improvement between the experimental group (students who received a tutor) and the control group (those who did not).

Three of the five institutions that offer Petey Greene tutoring generated a sample large enough to demonstrate that students who received math tutoring accelerated by more than one full grade level in math over the course of a semester of tutoring, with statistical significance. There was a similarly strong positive correlation between tutoring and improvements in reading level, such that students who worked with a tutor accelerated by more than one full grade level in a single semester.

GED pass rates reflect similar gains.  Tutored students who were preparing for their GED passed at a rate of 90%, compared with 83% for students who were not tutored. The impact of higher passage rates is notable according to prison administrators, who have expressed that every additional person who takes and passes the GED serves as an example of achievement to others.

Additional benefits of both one-on-one and small group tutoring were recorded through evaluations written by prison staff and tutors. These include descriptions of reduced violence in prison, increased attentiveness in class, higher self-esteem, and an increased optimism about the future.

While reduced recidivism rates are often the single criterion used to assess the efficacy of prison education, the true impact of such programs and the opportunity for further education are profound, and harder to quantify. Approximately 10,000 people are released from NJ DOC custody each year, and over 700,000 are released from custody nationwide. The benefits of returning thousands of better educated people to society each year with improved self-esteem, a more positive outlook, and improved job-related skills are immeasurable. The foundations of a good education and the infinite possibilities it holds are life-changing.

*Functional levels are the primary metric for education reform initiatives and compare pre-test and post-test results as measured on a Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE). The results measure “grade level” changes, i.e., “reading improves from a second grade to a third grade level.” Federal adult educational grants are generally awarded based on the performance of students vis-à-vis achievement of functional level standards. Pass rates for the GED exam is self-explanatory.

There is ample evidence showing that education is one of the most important aspects of a rehabilitative prison experience.

The most widely-cited evidence for prison education's beneficial effects comes from a study released in 2013 by the RAND Corporation.  The RAND Correctional Education Project found that correctional education improves outcomes for people who are later released from prison. Read more about the study here.