To define the word “education” would be for one to be enlightened and obtain knowledge through learning. Since I can relate to this topic on a personal level, I found that education in the prison system comes in various forms, such as academic, vocational, drug & alcohol treatment, self-help/support groups, mental/sexual/physical health classes, college courses, and employment training. To take advantage of these fundamental opportunities now, would be an incentive to anyone who is open-minded, willing to change their life, and trying to never repeat this unfortunate experience [of being in prison].
The Department of Corrections (DOC) did a study from 1992-2002 that confirms an average of 50% of all inmates who enter the prison system do not have a high school diploma or G.E.D. and about 75% have no vocational or collegiate education. Another vital statistic is that the recidivism rate of inmates who don’t get their G.E.D. and/or participate in educational programs while in prison, are at an alarmingly high rate of 65-75%. These statistics are not claiming that if someone is uneducated or under-skilled they’re prone to go to or return to prison, but [the statistics] do imply that one who obtains an education or special training will have a better chance of self-betterment and success upon their release and thereafter if they implement the skills he/she learned in prison.
Having said that, let me briefly describe the most common types of educational programs the DOC has to offer. First and foremost is the G.E.D. classes that help improve individuals’ basic academic skills. This gives the individual a chance to earn a diploma and allow them to further their education at a vocational and/or collegiate level. Then there’s the drug & alcohol treatment, which educates and gives inmates a better understanding of their addition, [and lets them] learn coping and life skills, as well as techniques to live a sober and productive lifestyle. The DOC also offers a wide range of vocational training programs, such as barber school, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and carpentry training, accounting, and computers and printing. [These] are just a fraction of the certified vocational programs available to inmates. Last but not least, the DOC provides a multitude of life skills classes and support groups that educate and help inmates learn more about themselves and how to prevent them from coming back to prison. These programs are known as Violence Prevention, Pre-Vocational [training], Goal Setting, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Loss and Grief [group], Money Management, and other related groups.
How are these educational programs beneficial to inmates? From my personal experience, when I’ve implemented these programs and education in my life, it has helped inspire me to pursue and achieve attainable goals, which in turn gives rise to my self-esteem, confidence, self-worth, character, respect for others and myself, gratitude, and a sense of purpose in life. In addition, it has also taught me how to utilize my coping skills and react appropriately to life’s adversities, [while also instilling] positive morals and values, responsibility, and accountability for my actions. Finally, these classes and programs showed me how to be a positive role-model to my children, family, loved ones, friends, and community!
In closing, I have discovered through research, personal experience, and observation that education in the prison system… is the foundation to a new beginning and a better chance to succeed during incarceration and especially after being released. My personal opinion is to take full advantage of the multiple educational programs that the DOC offers. It will not only be beneficial, prosperous, and advantageous to anyone incarcerated, but also to their loved ones, friends, their community, and society.
-Submitted by Greg Segars
Huntingdon SCI, Pennsylvania
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Importance Of Education
We can free up money for our law-abiding children to go to college by stopping the cycle of building prisons instead of schools and housing inmates instead of educating children.
WE all value education, until the topic turns to prison education. As I was readying my daughter for her dormitory move to Washington State University, and my son for his junior year there, I was asked to share my perspective about prison education. This wasn’t surprising since I am a dean of corrections education, working at the two largest prisons in our state.
While it is easy for me to argue the benefits of educating prisoners, I also understand the ever-present question, “Why should we pay for prisoners to get a free college education when I have to pay for my child’s education?” I understand that. I paid my own way through college. My husband and I worked hard and saved money for our children’s education so they could go to college without incurring a huge debt. I know there are many hardworking, law-abiding, intelligent kids out there who deserve a free college education.
Ninety-seven percent of Washington prisoners will be released and will reside in our neighborhoods. What we need to ask is: “Do we want these prisoners to succeed when they return to our communities?” The thoughtful answer is “yes” — we want and expect released prisoners to become law-abiding, taxpaying, contributing members of our communities. That will not happen without interventions that address the issues that contributed to their poor decisions. Education is a cost-effective intervention that puts prisoners on a different path that generates hope and employability.
We can decrease the costs of prisons to taxpayers either by reducing the number of people entering the system or reducing the number of people returning to it. All research on prison education shares the same result: Education reduces recidivism and saves money.
The cost to incarcerate an adult in Washington is approximately $35,000 per year. The cost to provide education in prisons is approximately $2,500 per year. In a major national study, the RAND Corporation found that prisoners who become educated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and that for every $1 spent on education, $5 is saved in reduced re-incarceration costs. Reducing recidivism means we are reducing crime in Washington.
The state Department of Corrections contracts with community colleges to provide basic education and job training at each of the state’s 12 adult prisons. Due to legislative restrictions, the only postsecondary academic programs delivered in prison are funded with private grants. For the past seven years, I have been involved with the grant-funded associate of arts degree programs at Washington State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
Most students who enroll in our program begin to see themselves as college students, capable of something better for themselves and they realize a much different future involving work, education and caring for their families. They begin to see themselves as students, not as convicts. By lifting a restriction on AA degrees in prison, Washington can stretch existing prison dollars even further and build upon proven, grant-funded success stories.
Our system is broken and we have a way to fix it through low-cost education programs. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced Second Chance Pell grants — an experimental program to allow incarcerated students to access federal financial aid for postsecondary education. This is not free college for all inmates, only those prisoners released in the next five years are eligible. This program is about demonstrating the power of education to fix our prisons.
We can free up money for our law-abiding children to go to college by stopping the cycle of building prisons instead of schools and housing inmates instead of educating children. If we can deliver a program that results in a college degree and dramatically changes lives, reduces recidivism and saves taxpayers money, why wouldn’t we do that?
Loretta Taylor is dean of corrections education for Walla Walla Community College at two state prisons. She has worked more than 22 years with incarcerated individuals.