Who Do We Serve?

Currently, we offer college courses to men in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri, which is owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Corrections. This facility is a medium, minimum-security facility.

Thanks to a two-year grant provided by the Mellon Foundation, we are offering college courses to women in the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri, which is owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Corrections.

We also provide college courses for correctional staff.



Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC)

18701 Historic Route 66, Pacific, MO 63069

Phone: (636) 257-3322

Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC)

101 US-54, Vandalia, MO 63382

Phone: (573) 594-6686


Our History

The Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) Prison Education Project (PEP) started as a conversation between Professor Emeritus Danny Kohl and Professor Maggie Garb in 2011.  Lamenting the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, the two wanted to intervene in some positive way.  Being aware of the elimination of incarcerated men and women from Pell Grant eligibility, Professors Kohl and Garb thought that WashU could positively impact the lives of incarcerated individuals in Missouri by providing a free college education. The two professors put out a call for interested faculty to join their cause. After some initial gatherings, a small group of 6 faculty (i.e., Danny Kohl, Maggie Garb, Jami Ake, Barbara Baumgartner, Len Green, and Gar Allen) began to chart a course of action for our soon to be program.

To reflect the value of educating all students, whether in prison or not, the small faculty group decided to develop a program that financially compensated full-time faculty at WashU to teach courses in prison.  In addition, the group began to research prisons that might be open to starting a prison education program and PEP was very fortunate to find a receptive host at a prison relatively close to campus (approx. 40 miles): the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) in Pacific, Missouri, where  Jennifer Sachse was the Warden.

Crucial to the development of PEP was the assistance of the St. Louis University (SLU) Prison Education Program, which started in 2008.  In addition to providing invaluable advice, SLU hosted the third conference on higher education in prison, now known as the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison in 2013.  The conference provided crucial connections to other programs, pragmatic information about starting a program, and a positive and fortuitous meeting with the Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, George Lombardi, who was enthusiastic about PEP’s plans to start another prison education program in the state.  In summer 2013, the PEP working group had grown to include other faculty members such as Rob Henke, who, along with Maggie Garb, became the co-directors of PEP.  The group submitted a proposal for a three-year pilot program for the inside-outside model, which wasn’t funded. PEP then applied for and received $150,000 from the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) to fund a three-year pilot program. Based on BPI’s long-established prison education program in New York state, BPI also provided logistical and technical support for PEP. 

Upon launching our application process, PEP had over 70 incarcerated men at MECC apply to the PEP program. 30 of those applicants were accepted as the first cohort. In the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015, two courses were offered each semester.  In addition, PEP provided one class per year to the MECC staff to secure their interest and support for the PEP program. PEP also began offering a monthly reading group at MECC for prospective students who had applied for and been denied admission into the PEP program. This reading group was designed to help these individuals work on skills necessary to strengthen their application for the next round of admissions.  

Based on the incredible success and positive media coverage of the PEP program, Provost Holden Thorp at WashU provided full financial support to PEP, which enabled the program to increase its course offerings from two courses a semester to four courses a semester in Spring 2016.  PEP was also able to increase staff courses to one each semester. Since the support was given by the Provost, the PEP program has received accreditation for an Associates Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree. PEP also graduated their first class of PEP students in 2019, received a million dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to expand into a women’s prison, and hired their first full-time Director.

“PEP is a vanguard program that is doing exactly what universities were meant to do – to spread access to knowledge in the service of the public good.  I look forward to many more years of teaching with the PEP and encourage others from both within and outside the university to join in supporting the project.” 
– Bret Gustafson, Summer 2018, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology