The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) recently announced the receipt of a $100,000 grant from the Davis Family Foundation to support student success initiatives and re-entry services for justice impacted students. Approximately 90% of UMA students released from prison mid-degree do not continue their education beyond one semester. For UMA Justice Studies student and Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC) debate team member Victoria Scott, these risky numbers were unacceptable. She collaborated with the UMA Prison Education Partnership staff, University of Maine System (UMS) Research Development staff and others to conceptualize and write the grant proposal submitted to the Davis Family Foundation this past Fall.
MDOC and UMA have a 17 year history of a collaborative Prison Education Partnership Program, celebrated recently by the dedication of a hand carved table constructed by residents of the Main State Prison, and located in the Katz Library at UMA’s Augusta campus. At that event, MDOC Commissioner, Randall Liberty noted, “You’ve heard the statistics, 5% recidivism rate for residents earning their degrees. That’s real change. Nothing is more powerful than education. The strong relationship with University of Maine at Augusta ensures lives are changed, from one generation to the next.” The generous grant from the Davis Family Foundation will provide additional support for justice impacted students and expand their access to higher education.
Scott has been an active advocate for students in UMA’s Prison Education Partnership and was one of several justice-impacted students who served on a Prison Education Advisory Board, part of the previously awarded Mellon Foundation grant, between January 2022 and January 2023. The proposal began as a class assignment in one of the courses taken as part of Scott’s Justice Studies program at UMA, and transformed into a full proposal submitted to the Davis Family Foundation. Her vision of creating a dedicated Re-entry Specialist position at UMA has become a reality as UMA currently searches for a full-time Students Services Coordinator (SSC) dedicated to Re-Entry students.
The Re-entry SSC will become part of the Prison Education Partnership team and will collaborate with the MDOC administration and staff and community partners including the Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network to work with justice impacted students prior to facility discharge and after re-reentry into their communities. The overarching goals of the SSC position is to support students’ access to education and retention in their program at UMA.
In addition to supporting this new staff position in a one year pilot position, the grant will provide laptops and school supplies to students upon release for their continued academic and professional success. Conceptualized and written by justice-impacted people, the pilot project hopes to demonstrate that reentry support improves student retention in Maine and recidivism, while simultaneously reducing the systemic inequities justice-impacted students face.
UMA student Scott states, “This is some of the most significant and gratifying work I’ve ever done. I don’t know that I’ve ever been proud of myself before. It still seems surreal to think that I could give a gift like this to others like me; that as an incarcerated student, I could reach over the wall to lift the world up.” UMA is very proud of student Victoria Scott’s efforts. She is a wonderful example of how students are making a difference and reducing barriers to education for others.