The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded ITHAKA a new $1.5 million grant to provide incarcerated college students with access to JSTOR, a digital library of journals, books, and other materials. Our aim is for every incarcerated college student in the United States to have access to JSTOR, along with the research skills to use this and other digital resources.

One of the most significant educational challenges that incarcerated college students face is easy, reliable access to high-quality library resources to support their learning. Prisons often do not provide internet access to individuals or offer only limited access to digital resources, sometimes at high cost. This challenge has only grown in the last 12 to 18 months as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up the need for digital learning solutions and higher education became more accessible to incarcerated individuals through financial aid expansions, including Second Chance Pell.

Today, JSTOR is accessible to students through a small number of Higher Education in Prison Programs (HEPs), programs offered in prisons by accredited colleges and universities. JSTOR provides an offline index that enables students to search journals locally. Articles are then requested and fulfilled by the college or university library and must also go through a Department of Corrections review process.

For the past three years, we have been working on a better solution. With a grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2019, we improved our original JSTOR offline index. With support from the Ascendium Education Group in 2020, we are developing an online JSTOR access solution that will deliver educational resources to incarcerated students while meeting prison security requirements.

The most recent grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation allows us to scale these solutions by investing in the following areas:

  • Hire two new staff members to lead our efforts to bring JSTOR to incarcerated students, a Manager, JSTOR Access in Prisons, and a Software Engineer. Our aim is to hire people with lived proximity to incarceration and its impacts who understand first-hand the complexities and potential impact of this work.
  • Identify candidate HEPs for our JSTOR offline and online solutions, work directly with HEPs and Departments of Correction to adopt solutions, and invest in building partnerships with prison technology providers who may facilitate providing access.
  • Ensure students are able to use JSTOR and other library resources effectively. We will create materials to help support incarcerated students in learning digital skills and research methods, and explore ways to effectively implement them by working with innovators such as the Clark College Education Department in Washington state, who will be designing a research module, using JSTOR, for their college’s highly successful, accredited Peer Tutor Program.

We believe that every college student needs access to library resources to be successful—whether enrolled in a traditional college campus, an online program from home, or in a classroom behind bars. It’s our mission to improve access to knowledge and education for everyone, especially those who face barriers to their education. In fulfilling our mission, once our solutions are ready, we will make access to JSTOR freely available to HEPs as part of our commitment to providing free access to historically underserved institutions and communities.

We look forward to addressing the need for library resources for as many incarcerated students as our project can reach, and are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for helping to make this possible.

This work is part of ITHAKA’s Improving Higher Education in Prisons initiative, a series of work to support justice-impacted individuals, empowering them to improve their lives by increasing access to high-quality higher education programs and library resources in prisons.