Can Inmates Access College Education In Prison?
Prison education has been proven to be a strategy that’s helping reduce criminal recidivism and improve economic opportunities for individuals serving prison sentences, as well as former inmates transitioning into civilian life. However, access to educational opportunities is somehow limited. Prisoners seeking college degrees have fewer options compared to others. Additionally, ex-offenders also face some practical obstacles, including limitations on access to financial aid. Despite these limitations and obstacles, ex-offenders and inmates who find a way to receive education and earn a degree dramatically improve their future prospects and tips for making the most out of the programs available.
However, education in prison is more than just a way to pass the hours while serving a criminal sentence. It is a way to reduce the likelihood that a temporary jail sentence will turn into a lifetime inside the prison system. Education is one of the strongest remedies for the endemic problem of criminal recidivism. There is persuasive evidence that the higher the level of education, the lower the likelihood of returning to criminal activity or incarceration. However, there are several limits on educational access for both inmates and ex-offenders. These limits include barriers to college-level courses, internet access, and financial aid.
What is Prison Education?
Prison Education can be categorized into several classes, from basic literacy and vocational training to rehabilitation, arts, and physical education. It also includes programs that allow, or rather; require prisoners to pursue a GED or high school equivalency. Prison education includes programs that help access college courses, either through mailed correspondence onsite. Most of the prison education programs are conducted onsite at federal and state prison facilities. Further, educational opportunities for inmates and ex-offenders produce clear and demonstrable value by creating access to academic degrees and practical training.
This post-secondary education can result in future employment opportunities, reduction in tendencies towards recidivism, and heightened earning potential. Inmates who earn a high school diploma are less likely to relapse into criminal behavior and incarceration. The inmates who earn a college degree are even less likely to relapse. Ideally, education and degree attainment can help mitigate some sociological drivers of criminal behavior and incarceration, including racial inequality and economic disadvantage. The advantages of effective prison education also extend beyond ex-offenders and individual inmates. Lower levels of recidivism lead to more vibrant communities, safer neighborhoods, and a reduction of the burden that our enormous prison system imposes on U.S. taxpayers. Nonetheless, access to higher education remains inconsistent and obstructed by severe limitations at worst.
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Prison education opportunities vary from one type of facility to another and from state to state. In most contexts, though, inmates are instructed to work within strict parameters of their incarcerated prison. To earn an academic degree while serving jail time, one must learn to manage education responsibilities while adhering to considerable freedom, movement, and access limits. Most state and federal inmates lack regular internet access, making it challenging to attend online courses or earn a degree from an online college. These limitations are further compounded by the declining rate of public money allotted for post-secondary education in prison, the high cost of college, and the high hurdle that inmates and ex-offenders must clear to receive student aid. Despite these limitations, prisoners at federal and state levels have access to high school education. In fact, in most state prison systems and federal levels, participation in some form of GED education is mandatory.
Post-secondary opportunities are less pervasive but can also take the form of both academic degrees and vocational certifications. Vocational certification programs are geared towards practical and technical skills training. These programs are far more commonplace than academic degrees. They are also far more likely to be subsidized through public funding than are associate degree or bachelor’s degree programs. Therefore, some states have shown leadership in producing academic opportunities for inmates. States like California and Texas have the highest concentration of inmate students. They have managed to offer ample proof that inmates with post-secondary academic degrees are among the least likely demographics to return to prison. While affordability and access remain obstacles, those state prison systems that create greater educational attainment opportunities see positive results.
Getting Your GED in Prison
For inmates and ex-offenders, earning a GED or high school diploma is a necessary step on the way to earning either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree. Evidence has shown that those in prison are highly likely to lack a GED or a high school diploma compared to the general population. Moreover, those who lack a high school diploma are more vulnerable to criminal behavior, recidivism, and incarceration. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 41% of the U.S. population holds a high school diploma, while 18% of inmates hold a diploma. This means that earning a GED is a necessary starting point. For some inmates, participating in remedial courses like literacy training or equivalent English as a Second Language (ESL) program is a bonus for earning a GED.
Moreover, in the Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, ESL programs or literacy are mandatory for most federal inmates who have not graduated from high school or earned their GED. The Bureau requires the inmates to take a minimum of 240 hours in literacy training until they obtain their GED. Most of these programs are facilitated through onsite courses and are required for most prison rehabilitation strategies. Sometimes, mail-in correspondence courses may also help facilitate the receipt of an online high school diploma or GED. However, research suggests that inmates are less likely to complete a degree through the slow and mail-in process.
Getting a College Degree in Prison
A famous IHEP report finding from 2008 indicates that somewhere between 35% and 42% of correctional facilities offer some type of prison College Degree access. The Center of American Progress echoes these findings, noting that only 35% of state prisons provide college-level courses. However, these programs only serve 6% of incarcerated individuals nationwide. This low penetration rate has been attributed to several factors, including lack of basic academic skills. However, limitations on affordability and access are also significant obstacles to post-secondary education access among inmates. The issue of cost only magnifies the limited access. Financing a college education is hard for an average student. They face limited opportunities for financial aid, which can make the journey even harder for them.
In 2018, prison inmates received less than 1% of all Pell program funding. However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons provides publicly-funded vocational and job programs access. These opportunities are expected to grow and improve for federal inmates since the passing of the Prison Reform Bill. Further, some traditional college-level courses may be accessible, but federal inmates are primarily responsible for financing this education independently. For inmates in states facilities that do not have onsite college-level options, the only option for learning is through distance correspondence courses. Ideally, some colleges offer correspondence courses open to any qualifying applicants, while others offer correspondence courses explicitly geared to students in the correctional system. Prison Education System identifies the considerable programs that are most accessible and hospitable to the needs of incarcerated students. Mostly, these colleges and universities use mail correspondence courses to facilitate learning, award credits, proctor exams, furnish associate and bachelor’s degrees.
Online College for Inmate
Unfortunately, inmates predominantly suffer the severe limitations on internet access that stands in the way of their full potential that could be revealed through online post-secondary opportunities. Many inmates, however, do have opportunities for limited internet usage through a system called Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS). This system is a highly restricted form of web access that allows federal inmates and inmates in some state facilities to communicate with personal contacts in the outside world.
Sending and receiving emails through this service provider is a paid service, limiting web access. However, this entity does not provide access to educational services, including online college degree programs and online courses.
- Pretrial Services Officer
This corrections role mainly focuses on defendants charged with crimes but are awaiting trial. These correctional officers dig into a defendant’s background before their trial in order to evaluate if they can remain safely as part of society as they await trial. Additionally, they weigh the safety and flight risks of the defendant and later present their findings to a judge who sets a bond amount. They also keep tabs on defendants released to the public and make sure they appear for their trial date.
- Correctional Officer
Correctional officers work within the parameters of jail to oversee inmates and suspects awaiting trial. They perform checks to ensure the facility’s security, provide secure transportation for inmates traveling to and from the facility and watch over inmates, then file reports on their behavior. They also plan an absolute critical role in keeping corrections staff and inmates safe. This role, however, requires thick skin and an excellent sense of composure during stressful situations.
These officers keep peace in courtrooms. Their duties generally include maintaining safety by upholding courtroom rules, delivering documents and other evidence to the judge, and escorting jurors, prisoners, and witnesses. This means that these officers’ position plays a vital role in maintaining the neutrality of a criminal trial.
- Substance abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselors support people who are working to overcome substance addiction. In correctional facilities, they evaluate inmates’ mental and physical health, educate them about addiction and create treatment plans. They also help their clients develop the skills they need to change their destructive habits.
- Probation officer
The people in this correctional career help support those on probation rather than those sent to prison. These officers work closely with their probationers, providing resources to help them rehabilitate, creating a treatment plan, and regularly evaluating their progress.
- Case manager
Case managers work together with inmates and probationers to help facilitate their rehabilitation. They evaluate and help connect the people they work with to helpful government and social service organizations. Most of their work involves helping Inmates Bridge the gap from life in detention to life on the outside. In most cases, they connect inmates to halfway home, drug treatment facilities, and employment agencies to help them get back on their feet as productive members of society.
- Corrections nurse
Jails and prisons house a lot of people who regularly need medical attention. Corrections nurses, both licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, are tasked with treating a wide array of potential health issues among correctional facilities occupants. Correctional nurses can treat fight-induced wounds, addiction withdrawal symptoms, and run-of-the-mail ailments.
- Group counselor
These professionals work with inmates in prison and those who are out on parole or probation. They modify their behavior and help them overcome addiction, behavior disorders, or mental illnesses. Group counselors also provide support in a group setting as they offer resources and treatment options to their clients.
Chaplains are part of the prison clergy who offer critical services such as religious counseling and education. They can practice any allowed religious denomination and are placed there as a resource for inmates who want to explore their spirituality.
A warden is a senior corrections officer responsible for the management and oversight of an entire correctional facility. This role is similar to other management positions. Wardens are responsible for managing the budget, setting policies, training new corrections officers, and overseeing the day-to-day operations of a correctional facility.
Scholarship and Grants for Inmates
Like the general population, Inmates receive scholarships and grants from grant funding groups. Although access to federal financial aid is limited for those currently serving in prison, several public and private grant-funding groups help prisoners and ex-offenders complete certifications, earn degrees, and start careers.
Some of these organizations and scholarship funds are:
- The Prison Scholar Fund
- The prison Education Foundation
- The Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration
Reducing the country’s enormous prison population means reducing recidivism and supporting those most vulnerable to an eventual first offense. Rutgers University, therefore, has started offering a list of scholarship groups specifically dedicated to the educational need of children with incarcerated parents. The major goal of these grants and scholarships is to ensure that these at-risk students start down the correct path. These scholarship groups include:
- Ava’s Grace Scholarship Foundation
- Willy the Plumber Scholarship Fund
- The Children OF Inmates Scholarship Fund
- Scholar CHIPS
- Give Back