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Drew Theological School’s PREP Program Makes History

Inside students earn graduate level certificates, sign the matriculation book

November 2023 – Drew Theological School’s Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons Program (PREP) made history last month when eight “inside” students from East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, earned graduate-level certificates.

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Drew's 150-year-old matriculation book.

The certificate in Religious Leadership in Social Transformation is the first graduate certification of any type held entirely inside a prison classroom in New Jersey history. 

PREP, which demonstrates Drew’s commitment to restorative justice and reentry efforts, has been offering classes in two New Jersey prisons for more than a decade. The program brings the Drew classroom into the prison setting with the goal of equally educating both “inside” and “outside” students through the sharing of diverse experiences, identities, and belief systems. 

PREP partners with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) consortium, which provides associate’s and bachelor’s degree-level educational services to the New Jersey incarcerated population. The Theological School is a founding member of NJ-STEP.

At a ceremony at East Jersey State Prison, the eight graduating students were able to sign Drew’s 150-year-old matriculation book—a rite of passage for all Theological School students. Prior to this event, the matriculation book had not left the grounds of Drew University. 

Theological School Dean Edwin David Aponte, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Robert Paul Seesengood, James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and African American Studies Traci West, and Associate Professor of Christian Theology Chris Boesel, as well as the families of the students, were present at the ceremony.

“This is historic in the state of New Jersey,” said West. “But, more importantly, the East Jersey State Prison students who received this certificate worked extremely hard and excelled in graduate level religion courses. As their professors, we are enormously proud of their accomplishment.”

In addition, Drew’s PREP program celebrated graduates at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility who attended Drew courses that contributed to the completion of an undergraduate degree at Rutgers University.

More than half of the Theological School faculty and more than 100 inside and outside students have studied together in East Jersey, Edna Mahan, and Northern State correctional facilities in New Jersey throughout the tenure of the PREP program.

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