Lack of education and job skills can hinder successful reentry for many formerly incarcerated persons. Although state and federal correctional departments encourage inmates to further their education, in most cases that push ends when a prisoner receives his or her G.E. D., which is almost useless in today’s competitive job market.
There was a time when many prisons would offer post-secondary courses for inmates because higher education helped to reduce barriers to employment that reentrants faced, and therefore helped to reduce recidivism. But, a couple of events occurred that almost completely shut off the funding for post-secondary education.
In 1972 the late Senator Claiborne Pell established the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (BEOG) to allow low-income students the opportunity to further their education. BEOG became known as Pell Grants, and inmates also applied for them, using them to better themselves while in prison. The idea of prisoners educating themselves via grants did not sit well with many conservative politicians who believed prisoners deserved only basic creature comforts and nothing more. A campaign of half-truths and down-right lies against Pell Grants for prisoners culminated in 1994 when President Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which banned Pell Grants for prisoners.
As if that wasn’t enough to sound the death-knell for post-secondary education for prisoners, the explosion of the inmate population rate to 2.3 million people caused correction budgets to hemorrhage and was essentially the coup de grace for higher education in prison.
But those who believe that post-secondary education is a cost effective way to reduce recidivism are not going down without a fight. Prisoner advocates are calling for the re-instatement of Pell Grants for inmates, and the Michigan Department of Corrections just received a grant for one million dollars to develop educational and vocational training for prisoners in that state. To read the Stateside article on that subject, which also includes a link to a radio interview, click on the link below.
Sources: Michigan Radio and the Fortune Society