An Incarceration Education
Updated: Oct 19
Did you know you can receive an educational degree while in prison? Incarcerated women and men across the United States are working harder than ever to do just that. In California alone, as of 2017, 4,500 inmates registered for classes at correctional facilities in the state to work towards earning their GED or associate’s degree. California has created “Corrections to College”, which facilitates that very mission. While the program is growing thanks in part to the efforts of individuals like James A. “Sneaky” White, Jr. and Jared Kushner, most Americans don’t know why or how incarcerated people earn degrees. As it turns out, earning a degree significantly affects recidivism rates by almost 30% compared to those individuals without a degree. Society at large benefits from supporting these prison education programs because people with college degrees earn and spend more than non-degree holding Americans.
Programs supporting prisoners receiving education are rising and have been over the last twenty years or so, with the help of many accredited colleges and universities across the US. According to PrisonEducation.com, more than 35 major schools in the US are now offering prisoner education courses where inmates can take classes while in prison. The average cost of keeping someone in prison is approximately $31,000 per year, and that money goes toward all aspects of prison life, so educating inmates costs less than the cost of tuition at many colleges and universities.
This popular rise of prison education has not always been in favor by the US Congress. During the era of the President Clinton’s crackdown on the criminal justice system, a Congress passed a crime bill that stopped inmates from being able to apply for federal student aid. This presented difficulties for colleges trying to work with prisons because they had to exclusively rely on private donations to fund their programs. Fast forward to 2016 when Congress developed a new initiative called the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which facilitates federal voucher programs to specific colleges for their prison education programs.
President Obama attempted to create prison reform during his administration, but was stifled by partisanship; however, with celebrities like Kim Kardashian West taking up the cause, it has become more bipartisan. In December of 2018, President Trump signed the FIRST STEP Actinto law. This could bode well for prison education programs because it is the first reform bill of its kind to pass in many years. The First Step Act reduces mandatory sentences, provides alternatives to prison for low-risk offenders such as house arrest, and facilitates more in prison and re-entry employment. It naturally follows that with awareness of the benefits of rehabilitation of incarcerated people that prison education will continue to rise.