Home About Us Media Kit Subscriptions Links Forum

View All Articles

Download PDF










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month


















MAY 2005

Schools Behind Bars:
Prison College Programs Unlock the Keys to Human Potential
By Gillian Granoff

In 1994 the government issued a federal crime bill, which made inmates ineligible to receive Pell Grants that had provided scholarships for prisoners to earn a bachelors degree while incarcerated. By mid-decade, just 6 percent of the $22 billion that states spent on prisons was being used for in-prison programs like vocational, educational or life skills training, according to an Urban Institute Study. Funding for prison college programs were eliminated, leading to the closing of some 350 such programs nationwide. Many states, including New York, barred inmates from taking college extension courses. Even secondary education programs suffered.

Statistics have indicated that the cost of keeping a prisoner in prison for one year exceeds the cost of educating prisoners for one year by a 10 to 1 ratio. Despite the obvious advantages, the movements away from prison reforms that educate and rehabilitate have been cut severely in the past ten years. The concept of prison reform has been replaced by policies that are punitive and in favor of permanent incarceration.

In spite of this, passionate defenders of criminal justice have been the architects of some groundbreaking partnerships with colleges to restore educational opportunities to inmates and provide them with tools to reenter society and become productive members of the community.

1. At Boston University in the Prison Education Program, founded in 1972, more than 160 Bachelor of Arts degrees and fifty Master of Arts degrees have been granted to inmates at MCI-Norfolk, MCI-Framingham, and the Bay State Correctional Center. Courses are taught at each site by Boston University faculty. Qualified students receive tuition, texts and supplies. In spring 2001, ninety students participated in 16 courses. Boston University interns help hundreds of educational, human services, and charitable institutions. Often working at professional levels, students are placed by Sargent College School of Social Work, Goldman School of Dental Medicine and the Bard prison initiative. Max Kenner, who graduated from Bard College in 2001, set up the Bard program.

2. At Harvard, Janet Reppert Rice, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School was assigned, as part of her fieldwork, to work with a nonprofit called Partakers on a program entitled the College Beyond Bars program. Rice was deeply affected by the College Beyond Bars (CBB) program in 2000 that gave “families, congregations, and other groups the opportunity to provide financial, emotional, and educational support to prisoner scholars earning college degrees. As a class project at the Kennedy School of Government, she developed a project to pair prisoners with sponsors to support their studies in Boston University’s program.

3. In 1987 Wesleyan University created the Wesleyan Prisoner Resource and Education Project. Students in the program held a book collection for prisoners last spring, to donate books. The goal is to implement college-in-prison programs where Wesleyan professors teach courses in prisons. The students would receive Wesleyan credit toward a bachelors degree. Faculty members would receive a stipend for their work. WesPrep plans to start with students and moderated seminars based on lesson plans generated by students. With the approval of the University and the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) WesPrep hopes to include the college in prison program by next spring.

4. Max Kenner, who graduated from Bard College in 2001, set up the Bard prison initiative. The Bard Prison Initiative addresses the great need for college-level instruction in the state prison system. BPI Programs Bard Degree Program (Eastern Correctional Facility) In partnership with Episcopal Social Services, Bard is developing a program that will return college opportunities to male prisoners in New York State. The program was begun at Eastern Correctional Facility in Napenoch, New York, with the Bard College Courses in the Humanities. It will eventually include a full degree program. The courses provides the foundation for a liberal arts education by offering college credit for introductory courses in philosophy, history, literature, art history, and writing. Poetry Workshop (Beacon Correctional Facility) Students prepare lesson plans and facilitate weekly 90-minute poetry sessions at this women’s correctional facility. At the end of each semester, the women’s writing is published in an anthology and celebrated with a public reading of their work.

In the GED Tutoring Program (Beacon, Hudson and Eastern Correctional Facilities) students provide one-on-one assistance to inmates working to acquire the General Education Diploma. At Eastern, the program is in Spanish. Education in the Community BPI sponsors speakers, workshops and conferences at Bard on topics relevant to prison life and the prison industry in NY.

5. At Georgetown University Professor Patricia O’Conner an Associate Professor in Georgetown English Department, founded the Prison Outreach Program. She and Georgetown students taught inmates at Lorton, a D.C. Department of Corrections maximum-security prison in Virginia for 16 years before it closed in 2001. Now she and her students teach at a detention facility across the Potomac in Arlington, VA. O’Conner teaches courses in Critical Reading and Writing, Narrative Discourse and Appalachian courses in Critical Reading and Writing, Narrative Discourse, Appalachian Literature and Prison Literature. Prison Outreach offers members of the Georgetown University community opportunities for collaborative learning with inmates in Washington D.C. area jails and prisons. As both teachers and learners, we are dedicated to education in the prison community and in the Georgetown community, and to the successful re-entry of incarcerated individuals into society. For more information, contact Patricia E. O Connor at 202-687-7622.

In addition to college prison education programs, many non-profits have organized arts programs and creative writing programs to nurture self esteem and provide rehabilitative projects of inmates. The response to these programs has been met with enthusiasm by the inmates themselves and has shown a proven means to reduce instances of violence within prisons.

Studies have clearly shown that “participants in prison education, vocation and work programs have recidivism rates 20-60 percent lower than those of non-participants (The Nation. March 4, 2005.) However, support for these programs is rapidly diminishing. If the trend continues, prisons are likely to become merely overcrowded holding cells which release inmates without alternatives and tools and skills to apply for jobs, and become legitimate members of the community. This trend more then likely guarantees these inmates become repeat offenders and return to prisons reinforcing the cycle of crime and punishment.#



Show email




Education Update, Inc.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2009.