On February 22 at 12 pm, the University of Maine at Augusta’s (UMA) Leadership Team and members of Maine’s Department of Corrections (DOC) hosted an event at the UMA Augusta campus to dedicate a hand-carved table built by residents of the Maine State Prison (MSP) and gifted to UMA. The table was built by DOC residents who are also UMA graduates and it recognizes, honors, and thanks UMA’s faculty and administration for its long history and commitment to higher education in Maine’s prisons.
The table is made from various hardwoods and supported by two columns of hand-carved “textbooks” depicting academic courses and individual faculty names. It is estimated that more than 1,100 hours went into its creation by the MSP craftsmen. The library table dedication honors UMA’s long history with the Maine DOC as well as recognizing the incredible artistry that MSP residents devoted to the table’s creation.
The dedication event included short presentations by UMA’s Interim President Joseph Szakas, Maine’s Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Randall Liberty, faculty who teach at the prisons, MSP residents and artisans who built the table, and some graduates of UMA’s Prison Education Partnership (PEP).
UMA’s PEP began at MSP in 2006 with generosity from Doris Buffett and her Sunshine Lady Foundation. Since its inception, UMA academic programming has expanded to all adult correctional facilities in Maine. UMA’s PEP currently enrolls 196 male and female students seeking associate and baccalaureate degrees. In 2016, UMA became a lead institution in the national Second Chance Pell Experiment, an initiative that provides need-based Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals through the U.S. Department of Education, and that funding continues today.
According to the MDOC Programming Division Report in 2021, “the college program has had a transformative impact on the culture of corrections and in the mindset of residents.” As a result of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Program, the Department of Education reports that “postsecondary education in prison contributes to successful reentry for people who have been incarcerated and promotes public safety.” In Maine, the recidivism rate for participants of higher education in prison is just 5%.
In addition to its participation in the Second Chance Pell Experiment, in 2020 UMA received a $940,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation which provided the first official support position for the college program – a Prison Education Partnership Director. The Grant also provided the addition of 180 laptops and 20 mobile web-conferencing carts across all MDOC facilities increasing both programming and student participation. Since 2006, UMA has awarded over 70 degrees to DOC residents and currently there are several students pursuing Masters and Doctoral degrees.
For further information about UMA’s Prison Education Partnership please contact Dan Philbrick, Interim Director of Prison Education – Academics, 207-282-4111 (7433).