People’s Education Initiative

Committed to providing women on Rikers Island with educational opportunities

Panel 1

About us

The People’s Education Initiative (formerly the Prison Education Initiative) was founded in 2004 by friends and colleagues with shared concern for the declining educational resources in prisons and jails, including a lack of academic opportunities for incarcerated women in New York City’s jails. PEI facilitates continuous 8-week units of evening classes through the Rose M Singer Center on Rikers Island in Queens, NY. Past course offerings include:

  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Black History
  • Cooking
  • Creative Writing
  • Documentary Film
  • Fashion Theory
  • GED math
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • Latin
  • Philosophy
  • Science
  • Women’s Studies

Our teachers come from diverse professional backgrounds with one common mission: to empower detained women to achieve their academic and personal goals.

Panel 2

Facts and Figures

Why Incarceration?

  • The US incarcerates a larger portion of our population than any other country.
  • We have 4.4% of the world’s population but 22% of its prison population with 2.3 million Americans incarcerated in jail or prison.
  • 6.6 million Americans are under correctional supervision.
  • 1 in every 172 adults (over 18) is incarcerated in the US.
  • 1 in every 250 white males is incarcerated.
  • 1 in every 91 hispanic males is incarcerated.
  • 1 in every 41 black males is incarcerated.
    sources: ACLU, Sentencing Project, Prison Policy Initiative, Bureau of Justice Statistics, PEW

Why Rikers?

  • The island is 415 acres, about half the size of Central Park.
  • There are 10 jails on Rikers Island.
  • On an average day there are over 8,800 inmates
  • Almost 50,000 people are admitted to Rikers each year.
  • 53% of incarcerated people in New York City are Black.
  • 25% of the population of New York City is Black.
    sources: NYC DOC, DOCCS

Why women?

  • The number of incarcerated women in the US rose 844% from 1980 to 2016.
  • Despite reductions in overall incarceration in the US since 2009, women’s prison populations have held steady and continue to increase in some states.
  • Two thirds of incarcerated women are serving time for non-violent offenses.
  • Black women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women.
  • 85-90% of incarcerated women have a history of domestic and sexual abuse.
  • 80% of incarcerated women suffer from addiction and substance abuse.
  • Women get fewer educational and vocational opportunities than men.
    sources: ACLU, Prison Studies, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Policy Initiative

why education?

  • 49.3% of those released from federal prison will be rearrested within eight years of release, while 76.6% of those released from state prison will be rearrested within five years.
  • In the study of federal prison recidivism, 60.4% of people who did not complete high school were reincarcerated within eight years, compared to 19.1% of college graduates.
  • Prison education decreases recidivism by 43% according to a recent meta-analysis.
  • Women who attend college while in prison are less likely to be reincarcerated (7.7% vs. 25%).
  • 60% of incarcerated people in New York have at least one child.
    sources: National Institute of Justice, United States Sentencing Commission, Esperian (2010), RAND
Panel 3

Student Resources

Are you a former student of PEI’s? Thank you for reaching out. The following links address some of the questions students have posed in class. If you don’t find what you are looking for, please submit a question through the contact link below or by emailing
NOTE: You can easily view many of the resources below on a single Google Map:




General or Re-Entry

Contact Us

PEI is committed to supporting students at Rikers and beyond. Please feel free to use the form below to contact us. If you are requesting letters of reference for employment or higher education, please include the name of the teacher you worked with or the class that you participated in.

If you have questions which are not answered by the preceeding links, please specify below what your needs are and how we may be able to help. We will do our best to connect you with people and organizations that can serve your needs.

Panel 4


Being inclusive to contributors from diverse points of view is central to the mission of PEI. We honor all input and welcome all forms of contribution in order to best serve our students at Rikers. The following are a few ways to contribute to PEI:


Interested in becoming a teacher? We require the following commitment from new teachers:

  • minimum of one year of continuous teaching, about 10 hrs per week including prep and travel to Rikers for one 2 hr class each week
  • attendance at monthly meetings to reflect on challenges and share results

PEI is flexible with people’s schedules and we can work around scheduled changes as needed. Email us at for more details.


Our teachers are always in need of classroom materials. We are continually seeking letter sized lined and blank paper, drawing paper and newsprint, charcoal sticks, colored paper, pencils and markers, golf pencils, rubber erasers, glue sticks, and magazines. In addition, we run an independent library at the Rose M Singer Center and appreciate new or gently used books. Please email to arrange a pick up. Thank you.


Donations can be made via our Paypal account.


Learn more about incarceration in America.