Liberating Minds

The Case for College in Prison

A forceful and thought-provoking argument for free college education for everyone in prison, from the former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

“He who opens a school door closes a prison.” —Victor Hugo

Anthony Cardenales was a stickup artist in the Bronx before spending seventeen years in prison. Today he is a senior manager at a recycling plant in Westchester, New York. He attributes his ability to turn his life around to the college degree he earned in prison. Many college-in-prison graduates achieve similar success and the positive ripple effects for their families and communities, and for the country as a whole, are dramatic. College-in-prison programs greatly reduce recidivism, leading to potential savings in the staggering cost of prisons. They increase post-prison employment, allowing the formerly incarcerated to better support their families and to reintegrate successfully into their communities, providing positive role models. College programs also decrease violence within prisons, improving conditions for both correction officers and the incarcerated.

Liberating Minds eloquently makes the case for these multiple benefits and also tells the stories of many formerly incarcerated college students and the remarkable transformations in their lives.

Both access to college for all Americans and criminal justice reform are high on today’s national policy agenda. Liberating Minds argues that it is imperative, both for prisoners themselves and for society, that access to higher education be extended to include the incarcerated. As the country faces a legacy of decades of over- incarceration, offering college behind bars provides a corrective on the path back to a more democratic and humane society.


“Important and engaging. Lagemann reinforces her case with solid social science research findings on the positive effects of higher education in prison on both the inmates themselves and the larger society. A must-read.”
—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University
“A powerful, simple solution to make prison a place of education and rehabilitation: provide all inmates a free higher education. The strength of Lagemann’s argument lies in the empathy and enthusiasm with which she tells the stories of people whose lives were made better by college in prison.”
—Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation
“A masterful book on a complex and compelling topic, mixing personal insights from teaching behind prison walls with a scholar’s understanding of the critical role of college education in our democracy.”
—Jeremy Travis, president, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
“A must for anyone interested in ending mass incarceration.”
—Arne Duncan, former U.S. secretary of education
“Thought provoking. . . . All of us in society have an interest in ensuring that those in prison come out better than when they went in, and an education is a proven way to help achieve that.”
—Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel, Koch Industries
“An excellent new book that makes a compelling case. Lagemann’s is a reasoned, knowledgeable, and compassionate voice for higher education as a means to achieve the goal of prison as a place for rehabilitation.”
—Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York
“One of our country’s preeminent educational historians offers a powerful economic and social argument for educating those in prison while also making a compelling appeal for education-for-all as a bedrock principle of democratic life.”
—Mike Rose, author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education

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