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Prison Education Program receives $70,900 in grants

Dr. Sharon Varallo declared it a banner day for APEP (Augustana Prison Education Program). The Bard Prison Initiative in New York awarded APEP $50,900 to install a computer lab at the East Moline Correctional Center, where APEP is based, and to establish operational systems.

“To have the best education and to eventually have the most options for meaningful work, computer literacy is vital,” said Dr. Varallo, professor of communication studies and the driving force behind APEP. “In APEP’s first academic year, the students wrote and revised all assignments by hand. While we and they are proud of the work they did, we are delighted to be gifted with the opportunity to build a mobile computer lab that could also allow them to learn research skills.”

The good news continued when the Regional Development Authority in Davenport, Iowa, followed up with $20,000 funding toward hiring an administrator to manage operations and assist students after their release from prison — to act as a liaison between the corrections facility, the college and community partners providing transition services, including housing, health care and jobs.

“An APEP assistant also will assist in creating a Reading/Writing Center and tutoring inside, ensuring appropriate data is collected, protected, organized and shared with the relevant partners, and creating protocols for the continuation of education post-release,” Dr. Varallo said.  

APEP is modeled after one of the country’s most effective prison education programs — the Bard Prison Initiative in New York. Research shows that graduates of prison education programs like APEP are about 20 times less likely to return to prison after their release.

Ten men attended APEP classes led by Augustana faculty this past year, pursuing a bachelor’s in communication studies. All 10 now have sophomore status, having completed 30 credits.

“Classes will begin again in the fall with at least seven of the original 10 students and a second cohort of hopefully 24 new first-year students,” Dr. Varallo said. “This program absolutely took off like a rocket in 2021.”

APEP was launched with a $225,000 seed grant from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation. No Augustana institutional or tuition funds are used to finance the program. APEP is supported through the generosity of individual, foundation and corporate donors. 

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