Support for Inmate Education
By Torrey Sims (04/17/2013)

Often the public looks at correctional facilities as a final stop for punishment for those convicted of crimes, but now many are realizing that correctional facilities can be better utilized as a place for rehabilitation and learning.

There have been many programs implemented by different states as a way to ensure the success of inmates while they are behind bars in order to give them the skills they need to be a valued member of society upon release. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback is an advocate for the state’s Mentoring4Success program, part of the nonprofit Brothers in Blue reentry program at the state’s Lansing Correctional Facility.

“Our goal is to reduce the rate of inmates returning to prisons,” Brownback said in a statement. “The men and women involved with the Brothers of Blue reentry program at Lansing are great examples of the tremendous impact a mentor can have on the life of an inmate. They are deeply involved with their mentees who are making great progress as they prepare for their release. We need more like them.”

Mentoring4Success was launched in July 2011 as a way to bring education and support to the state’s incarcerated men and women. Currently, the program has more than 1,150 mentors across the state, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections. Inmates become eligible for the program when they have six to 12 remaining months left on their prison sentences. The hope, according to a statement by Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts, is to be able to have a mentor for every inmate in Kansas.

“Mentors are able to help strengthen an offender’s success once he or she returns to the community,” said Roberts in a statement. “Offenders face challenges during and after their community transition. A mentor is able to reinforce and support the positive steps an offender has made inside a facility, plus they help an offender interface with community resources and collectively do a better job upon release. Therefore, we want to have a mentor for each offender leaving incarceration.”

There are currently 83 mentors who work one-on-one with inmates in the Kansas Department of Corrections. Along with mentoring, the program also works with inmates to provide them with the necessary tools they need for living life outside of prison, including cognitive practices, GED programs, literacy and substance abuse education.

A Call for Support

Kansas is not the only state supporting educational opportunities for its inmates. In New Jersey, professors at Rutgers University claim that giving inmates an opportunity to better themselves academically will help in the long run.

“I think that education in our prisons is the key to preventing recidivism,” said John J. Farmer, Jr., former New Jersey attorney general and now dean and professor of law at the Rutgers School of Law.

Farmer called the restoration of Pell Grants for prisoners, “one of the most important dialogues we can have in the content of law enforcement,” during a discussion at Rutgers titled, “Pell Grants and Prison Education: How Pell Grant Access in Prison Transforms Lives.”

The Pell Grant program provides need-based assistance to students to promote access to higher education, but since 1994, incarcerated persons are banned from receiving Federal Pell Grants. The elimination of eligibility for Pell Grants for the incarcerated was a heavy blow to post-secondary correctional education programs, according to Education from the Inside Out Coalition. Without the necessary funding, community colleges, colleges and universities withdrew from the correctional education market. In 1997 a study showed the number of prison higher education programs dropped from 350 to only eight nationally. In 2004 a survey found only about 5 percent of the overall prison population had access to post-secondary correctional education.

The Education from the Inside Out Coalition helped to organize the event at Rutgers and has been trying to reverse the 1994 ban on Pell Grants since the law was passed. Although they have not been successful as of yet, Farmer gave hope for current and future lawmakers in a statement saying, “At the time [1994] there just was no traction among the political people to pass legislation like this.”

Advocacy groups in support of reversing the Pell Grant ban are busy meeting with members of Congress and officials at the U.S. Department of Education in order to get support.

Show Me the Money

Much of the reason behind banning Pell Grants to inmates was much of the reason anything gets revoked: money. Those in favor of the ban believe it costs too much to offer inmates Pell Grants, while those wanting to lift the ban believe that it costs more to house an inmate than to educate an inmate.

Dallas Pell, daughter of late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, father of Pell Grants, was asked what the actual dollar increase would be if Pell Grants were restored to inmates. Pell cited a statistic that showed prisoners only represent a fraction of a percent of all Pell Grant recipients, according to Education from the Inside Out Coalition.

Another study, conducted by the Public Administration titled “Prison vs. Princeton,” also shows the cost of inmate education versus inmate housing. The study found that it cost $44,000 to incarcerate one inmate per year in New Jersey, while it cost $37,000 per year to attend Princeton University per year as an in-state resident.

Effects of Incarceration

Not only is education important to provide for those incarcerated, but also for the children who have parents behind bars.

More than 1.7 million children under the age of 18 have a parent in prison in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Far too often the cycle continues with the children, but Creative Corrections, an international police and corrections consultant firm, looks to provide hope for children of incarcerated parents or children of parents now on parole.

Percy Pitzer, now retired, worked for more than 30 years in the correctional system as a warden and also as a correctional consultant. He decided to give back to those he felt needed it most — the children. Pitzer, along with his wife Jeanine, started the Creative Corrections Education Foundation with their own startup money of $100,000. The foundation aims to give scholarships to help the children of prisoners or help children with parents on parole receive the education they need. Pitzer’s last position was with the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas where he served as the warden.

“I have been successful in my career and we have been successful in business, so we thought we should give a little bit back,” explained Pitzer. “That’s why we started the Creative Corrections Education Foundation.”

The education foundation officially began in August 2011 and has already provided two scholarships of $1,000 each to children with an incarcerated parent.

The foundation was set up with criteria as to who can receive the funds and where the funds can be distributed. The funds can go towards the pursuit of a degree in vocational training program or at a university. The money for the scholarship is then given directly to the educational facility where they distribute the funds accordingly.

“The parent has to be incarcerated or out on parole and the candidate has to be accepted by a vocational school or a university and have applied for a Pell Grant. They also have to have references from their school,” Pitzer explained.

Although Pitzer funded the initial startup, he hopes others will contribute, including inmates.

“If they [inmates] contribute the cost of a candy bar a month, that would be a $6 to $7 contribution per year, per inmate. And we really think that that can happen.”

Pitzer has sent flyers and information to facilities throughout the country and has recently been in contact with several facilities to get them involved in his mission. He has many commitments but could not make the information public knowledge as of press time.

The future looks promising for Pitzer and his program as he explained his outlook: “We want to meet our original goals and then we want to expand into mentoring and maybe down the line work with schools so we can ensure that they do continue on and can have access to this scholarship.”

Pitzer reiterated the importance of education and community involvement for the children, as well as their incarcerated parent(s), adding that having options are important, but currently rare.

“Ninety-eight percent of them [inmates] are going to get out of prison and be back in the community, and anything that we can do to make them successful or help them be successful in the community, then that’s what we should be doing.”

 
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