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UW Odyssey Beyond Bars program receives grant to teach college courses in Wisconsin prisons

Odyssey Beyond Bars student opening a book to read

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project received a $300,000 grant from the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation to continue teaching college courses to incarcerated people in Wisconsin through the Odyssey Beyond Bars program.

headshot of Noble Wray
Noble Wray, retired Madison Chief of Police and Rennebohm board member

The funding of $100,000 over the next three years will support a pilot project that will deliver introductory college courses in English to incarcerated students who are interested in post-secondary education but are not yet enrolled in a credential-granting program. The project will also explore the potential for offering similar introductory courses in math.

“As someone working in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system for 37 years, I believe Odyssey Beyond Bars’ early results in providing a college ‘jump-start’ to incarcerated students have been impressive,” says retired Madison Chief of Police Noble Wray, who sits on the Rennebohm board of directors. “In my view, the news that they will be able to extend this innovative reentry initiative means that more incarcerated individuals could have a greater chance of success when they return to society.”

Odyssey Beyond Bars began teaching noncredit enrichment courses to students in Wisconsin’s prisons in 2015, and in 2019 taught the first for-credit UW–Madison course in a prison in 100 years. The program annually enrolls 110 incarcerated students: 30 for-credit students at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon and 80 noncredit students at the Wisconsin Resource Center in Winnebago.

headshot of Peter Moreno
Peter Moreno, Odyssey Beyond Bars director

“Studies show that people who complete college coursework while incarcerated are more likely to be self-sufficient upon reentry and less likely to return to prison,” says Peter Moreno, Odyssey Beyond Bars director. “The communication skills that students develop in Odyssey Beyond Bars courses prepare them for success in many post-secondary programs, including vocational programs.”

Odyssey Beyond Bars grew out of the UW Odyssey Project, a groundbreaking, nationally recognized college jump-start program now in its 18th year of empowering Madison-area adults to break cycles of generational poverty through access to education.

Already an integral part of the UW System Prison Education Initiative, Odyssey Beyond Bars will work with UW System and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to create and evaluate the effectiveness of their college course programming.

Learn more about the UW Odyssey Project and Odyssey Beyond Bars.