The world of higher education and the world of criminal justice are both a bit byzantine, each with its own acronyms, organizations, and jargon. This is especially true in the spaces where these two worlds intersect. While there are many challenges to higher education in prison, it is not impossible, and learning some of the common terms and jargon can make it even easier. For this reason, we have put together this lexicon for higher education in prison. The following is a collection of terms, phrases, organizations, and acronyms that you will likely encounter as you navigate education within the criminal justice system.

Key Terms and Phrases:

Ban the Box: A movement to remove questions about criminal history from job and school applications.

Carceral System: A comprehensive network of systems that rely, at least in part, on the exercise of state sanctioned physical, emotional, spatial, economic and political violence to preserve the interests of the state.

Good time: Credit based, early release from prison or jail, also referred to as gain time, sentence remission, or time off for good behavior. Participation in educational programs can help someone earn good time, but people might not have access to this benefit depending on their sentence or the state in which they are incarcerated. 

Incentive pay: Wages incarcerated people earn for their work inside of prison. This pay is often less than a dollar per hour, meaning incarcerated people do not make enough to take care of themselves in prison. Still, these wages can compete with educational goals, as incarcerated people choose between paid jobs and attending classes that offer no wages at all. There are some states where incarcerated people are not paid at all for their labor. 

Landscape study: A survey conducted by the Alliance of Higher Education in Prison to collect descriptive information about all higher education in prison programs in the country, including the type of program, number and demographics of students, technology access, and other characteristics. The 2019-2020 report can be found here

System Impacted Individual: Refers to those who have been incarcerated or detained in a prison, immigration detention center, local jail, juvenile detention center, or any other carceral setting, those who have been convicted but not incarcerated, those who have been charged but not convicted, and those who have been arrested.

Neg Reg: Negotiated rulemaking committee hosted by the U.S. Department of Education to determine what the full restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated students will look like. Formerly incarcerated people and program administrators offered input as to how full restoration should be implemented. 

Parole: The negotiated release of a person impacted by the criminal justice system temporarily for a special purpose or permanently before the completion of a sentence, on the promise of good behavior.

Probation: The release of a person impacted by the criminal justice system from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.

Pardon: An exemption from punishment, usually made through the use of executive power.

People-centered language: Also referred to as person-first or humanizing language, this refers to the act of  intentionally referring to an individual as a person rather than as a label. An example of this would be “person who is incarcerated” rather than “inmate.” 

RAND Study: RAND (Research and Development) Corporation is a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis with the goal of improving policy and decision making. RAND’s 2013 study, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education,” found that education reduces recidivism and is often cited in support of higher education in prison. 

Recidivism: When a person returns to prison, either for a technical violation or a new charge. A technical violation involves not meeting a requirement of parole or probation, such as missing a curfew or losing a job. Recidivism is a controversial measure of program effectiveness given the fact that the many barriers formerly incarcerated people face upon release make it extremely difficult to live up to all the requirements of release. 

Securus: A private company that contracts with correctional facilities to allow incarcerated individuals to have phone calls or video chats with individuals outside of the facility. These phone calls and chats are prohibitively expensive and often cost incarcerated people and their loved ones hundreds dollars a month.  

Transfer hold: An agreement between higher education in prison programs and particular prisons and or departments of corrections/public safety/justice to refrain from transferring college students for the duration of the semester and/or the entirety of the college program in question. 

Big funders and big players: 


ABE (Adult Basic Education): ABE courses are courses that are specifically designed for adults and focus on teaching areas such as reading and writing, fundamental math and numeracy skills, and even ESL or English as a second language classes.

ACA (American Correctional Association): The ACA is the largest corrections association in the world. The ACA was founded in 1870 with the goal of prison reform, but with time, this priority has shifted. In recent years, ACA has become associated with mass prison expansion and providing controversial ACA “accreditations.” You can visit the ACA’s website here, and you can read more about the recent shift in ACA practices here.

AHEP (Alliance of Higher Education in Prison): The Alliance is the nation convener of higher ed. within prisons. They work collaboratively with HEP programs across the nation in supporting practitioners and students, while promoting the importance of higher education. As stated on their website, they seek to advance the HEP field by building community, shaping dialogue, supporting quality practice, producing knowledge, and ensuring sustainability. 

BJA (Bureau of Justice Assistance): This program, located under the US Department of Justice, was founded in the 1980s to support law enforcement agencies’ efforts. According to its mission (, “BJA works with communities, governments, and nonprofit organizations to reduce crime, recidivism, and unnecessary confinement, and promote a safe and fair criminal justice system.” BJA provides funding to various organizations’ efforts to reduce crime and recidivism and reform criminal justice. (See for such funding opportunities.)

CCA (Corrections Corporation of America): Known for years as Corrections Corporation of America, CCA is currently undergoing a rebranding as CoreCivic. CCA/Corecivic claims to be “the nation’s leading provider of high-quality corrections and detention management.” You can read more about CoreCivic and its $1.83 billion in revenue here.

CEA (Correctional Education Association): According to, CEA is a “professional association of educators and administrators who work in adult and juvenile corrections settings all over the world.” Their goal is to provide training, research, and networking opportunities for educators working in the world of corrections.

CO (Correctional Officer): Correctional Officers are those who oversee currently incarcerated peoples. CO’s are responsible for enforcing rules and regulations within a facility. The stated goal of a CO is to ensure safety, security, and supervision.

DOC (Department of Corrections)/DPS (Department of Public Safety)/DPS&C (Department of Public Safety and Corrections): These overarching terms are all ones used by different states to identify their Department of Corrections.

  • Alabama: ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) 
  • Arkansas: ADC (Arkansas Department of Corrections)
  • Florida: FDC (Florida Department of Corrections) 
  • Georgia: GDC (Georgia Department of Corrections)
  • Louisiana: LA DPS&C (Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections) 
  • Maryland: MD DPSCS (Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services)
  • Mississippi: MDOC (Mississippi Department of Corrections)
  • North Carolina: NC DPS (North Carolina Department of Public Safety)
  • Puerto Rico: DCR (Department of Correction and Rehabilitation)
  • South Carolina: SCDC (South Carolina Department of Corrections)
  • Tennessee: TDOC (Tennessee Department of Corrections)
  • Texas: TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
  • Virginia: VDOC (Virginia Department of Corrections)
  • West Virginia: WV DCR (West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

DOE (Department of Education): The Department of Education is a governmental organization with a goal to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect raw data on schools in the United States and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.”

DOJ (Department of Justice): According to, the U.S. Department of Justice’s mission is “to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” In the world of Corrections, the DOJ is the highest level and is the entity responsible for many federal policies.

HEP (Higher Education in Prison): This term refers to post-secondary educational opportunities provided to justice-involved individuals, both by institutions of higher education (e.g., two-year and four-year colleges and universities) and by ancillary organizations.

HiSET/GED (High School Equivalency Test, General Educational Development Test): The HiSET and GED are two exams that allow adults who did not complete high school to receive the equivalent of a high school diploma. Visit to learn more. 

IHEP (Institute for Higher Education Policy): According to its mission statement, “The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is a nonpartisan nonprofit research, policy, and advocacy organization committed to promoting access and success in higher education for all students with a focus on students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and other historically marginalized populations.” Visit to learn more.

JPay: a private company that operates within correctional facilities to allow incarcerated individuals to receive and spend money inside the facility and to send and receive documents from outside of the facility.

MOU (Memorandum of Understanding): MOUs are formal agreements between collaborating organizations (e.g., higher ed institutions and carceral facilities) that outline policies, procedures, and expectations for the organizations’ work with one another. For instance, an MOU between a college and a prison might specify curricular details, expectations of students, instructors, and prison staff; and all parties’ responsibilities for participating students’ education.

NCHEP (National Conference for Higher Education in Prisons): Held annually, NCHEP is put on by the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (AHEP) as a chance for HEP professionals around the nation to collaborate and learn from one another. This conference highlights keynote speaker(s) and several opportunities to attend workshops by HEP leaders to learn about current projects and work being done across the nation. More on the conference can be found here.

PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act): Signed into law in 2003 by President George W. Bush, PREA was put in place to deter incidents of sexual assault among incarcerated individuals. In many states, training about PREA is mandatory for many persons working inside carceral institutions, including persons offering educational opportunities in prisons.

SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), SACJTC (Southern Association of Community, Junior, and Technical Colleges) and SACSCOC (SACS Commission on Colleges): The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the primary accrediting body for post-secondary educational institutions in eleven states in the Southeastern US, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. SACS is further subdivided, into SACJTC and SACSCOC, each overseeing accreditation of those educations under its purview.

SCP (Second Chance Pell): Established in 2015 by the Obama-Biden Administration, the Second Chance Pell (SCP)  experiment expanded education opportunities for justice-involved individuals. This launch gave directly impacted individuals access to federal financial aid that was not possible before. In July of 2021, SCP was expanded for the 2022-2023 year. 


This is by no means every term and organization, and like many other fields, the world of higher ed. in prison is continuously evolving. It is our intention to keep this list as up-to-date as possible as new terms and organizations come into play. We will also be diving deeper into these terms and organizations in upcoming blog posts, so be sure to follow our blog!