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The Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison

The Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison is part of the University of Utah Prison Education Project, a multi-pronged approach to expand the field of quality higher education in prison. We work in collaboration with programs across the country to transform the landscape of higher education in prison through empirical research and collaboration toward more equitable and quality experiences for incarcerated students.

Research Collaborative Members:

erin castro

Erin L. Castro is an Associate Dean of Community Engagement and Access, Undergraduate Studies and Co-Director/Founder of the University of Utah Prison Education Project. She is also an Associate Professor of Higher Education, and she directs the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison.

Pamela Cappas-Toro is the Senior Associate Director for the Reseach Collaborative, while also working as Faculty on the Latin American Studies department at the U. She founded and directed the prison education program at Stetson University in Florida.

Pamela Cappas-Toro is the Operations Director of Higher Education in Prison, concurrently serving as a faculty member in the World Languages and Cultures Department.  Dr. Cappas-Toro has worked in higher education across the U.S. promoting institutional practices, policies, and programming to best serve incarcerated, first-generation, and eHSI learners.

estefanie padilla

Estefanie Aguilar Padilla is a graduate research assistant with the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison. She is a graduate student in the Masters of Statistics, Econometrics program at the University of Utah.

steph gaskill

Stephanie Gaskill has been conducting research and writing about the criminal legal system for almost a decade. She has also taught high school equivalency classes for currently and formerly incarcerated women and served as the lead staff person for a higher education in prison program.


Cydney Caradonna is a PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah. Throughout her academic career she has supported a variety of programming including transfer student support and social justice leadership development. Her career goals include becoming faculty and producing research surrounding critical leadership studies, higher education in prison, student activism and epistemic justice while engaging with community organizing efforts.


Higher Education in prison resources

UPEP models itself in accordance with best practices laid out by the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison. The Alliance is a national organization dedicated to supporting the expansion of quality higher education in prison, empowering students in prison and after release, and shaping public discussion about education and incarceration.

Each year UPEP attends the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. The conference provides its stakeholders, including educators and students, activists, policy experts, higher education administrators, employees of the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and more, a collaborative venue and a rare once-in-a-year opportunity to share space and engage in constructive dialogue about the higher education in prison landscape.

National Peer Programs:

UPEP continues to collaborate, problem solve, and draw inspiration from quality higher education in prison programs across the nation. We are grateful for many of the below programs for sharing resources and advice in building our partnerships here in Utah. Check out the great work they are doing below:

Other Support Programs:

Programs to support students with incarceration and systems-impacted histories

UPEP seeks to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students in their higher education pathways. We are keeping an eye out for initiatives that support students in higher education who have incarceration, criminal conviction, and systems-impacted histories. Please check out the following groups, and connect with us if you are doing this important work in our state or region:

Last Updated: 1/16/24