The UMass Amherst Jail Education Initiative (JEI) is an interdisciplinary collective of faculty, students, and community partners engaged in higher education programming in jails in Western Massachusetts and in research and scholarship on jail and prison education, mass incarceration and social inequality. We are guided by a broad vision in support of equity and access to higher education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, both within jails and prisons in Massachusetts and on the UMass Amherst campus. 

The Initiative, with offices in the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, offers tuition-free UMass courses inside local jails, including “inside-out” courses that enroll UMass students and incarcerated students. The PEI also works to clear pathways for formerly incarcerated students to continue their education at UMass or in a community college setting and provides research, teaching, and community engagement opportunities for faculty and students interested in social justice and education.



In recent years, many universities have increased their investment in college-in-prison programming. However, very few post-secondary institutions direct resources to educational programs and pathways for people incarcerated in jails. Although time spent in jail is shorter on average than time spent in prison, people go to jail over 10 million times each year (in contrast, approximately 600,000 people enter prison annually) and often languish behind bars for months, sometimes years.  In Massachusetts on any given day, there are more people sitting in jail than in state prison. The sheer number of people whose lives are negatively impacted by time in jail – including having their education disrupted, often permanently – obligates us to reimagine what college and other educational opportunities might look like for people in jail. In Massachusetts, the JEI plays a unique role in the higher education in prison community because we are committed to serving people in jail, a student population that is commonly overlooked by college-in-prison programming.

Building a more diverse and inclusive community at UMass Amherst

The JEI is building a more diverse and inclusive community at UMass through the WGSS inside-out courses that we offer in jail (enrolling UMass students and incarcerated students), the internship opportunities we offer to our formerly incarcerated students, and the work we do to create pathways for our students to continue their education once they return home.

More Information

Housed in South College right next to WGSS, the JEI consists of a group of faculty members across disciplines at UMass who have been involved with jail education here in Western Massachusetts and elsewhere. 

JEI News

JEI Hosts Book Talk
On April 3 2024, the JEI hosted a book talk and Q&A with Michelle Jones and Anastazia Schmid, featuring the book Who Would Believe A Prisoner? Indiana Women's Carceral Institutions, 1848-1920.
April 15, 2024
Apply to WGSS 398/698: Teaching & Learning in Carceral Spaces
Apply now to join the Fall 2024 cohort for WGSS 398/698: Teaching and Learning in Carceral Spaces with Professor Laura Ciolkowski!
April 3, 2024
Meet our JEI assistants!
The UMass Amherst Jail Education Initiative (PEI), with offices in the Department of WGSS, welcomes Lara, Olive, and Cristiana!
April 3, 2024