College Buzz: More Higher Education Opportunities for the Incarcerated

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This week we take a look at the growing higher education opportunities for incarcerated individuals. In what ways do these programs help them succeed after release? How else can we support re-acclimation through education?

College education for the incarcerated

For some time now, incarcerated individuals had very little access to higher education, even if they wanted. Many prisons across the country don’t provide any classes to help them prepare for life after prison. What makes it even harder is that many of these people are not eligible for Pell Grants or federal loans once they’re released.

It makes it increasingly harder for these individuals to get back on their feet after release. And in some cases, entirely prevents them from ever getting aid, specifically if they were incarcerated on drug charges.

But some colleges and federal programs are trying to change that by offering in-prison higher education programs.

In New York, they’ve launched “College Behind Bars,” and DC is home to the “Georgetown Prison Scholars Program,” both of which provide access to classes at local prisons.

As more private organizations and some state/federal level experimental programs pop up, it could mean a massive shift for incarcerated students and their families. Read more here. 

New York State finds prison education programs save money in the long run

In fact, one of the current New York-based prison education programs has found that offering classes can keep individuals from returning to prison.

By investing in their education, the programs are primarily investing in their future, making it possible for them to have a successful career upon release. Lack of job opportunities is one of the most significant issues that face previously incarcerated individuals.

Syracuse. com did a study of a college-in-prison program currently running in the state and gathered some interesting data that makes a case for college programs.

“..We offered 18 classes, enrolling 12 to 15 students each, to over 40 incarcerated men working toward an associate degree. Total cost for tuition, books, supplies: $75,000. If just one of these students stays out of prison for 13 months longer than he might have otherwise, he pays for a full program year. And higher education can reduce recidivism rates by 43% and often higher.”

You can read more about the study here.

New Jersey passes law to sustain college offerings for the incarcerated

A new law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy back in January, allows for state tuition aid to be permanently available for incarcerated New Jersey residents. What began as an experiment in opening up opportunities for higher education to incarcerated individuals, turned out to be a home run for the state.

Not only do supporters believe this helps incarcerated individuals give back to the community after release, in the form of holding a high-paying job, but it also gives the prisoners hope.

One study found that prisoners who have access to higher education are 48% less likely to return to prison after release. That’s why New Jersey is putting education within reach. Read more here.