Saturday, June 24, 2017


Team Trump should commit to providing inmates an education

By Jim Farrin

The Wall Street Journal
June 21, 2017

Amy Lopez isn’t the highest-profile official to be fired by the Trump administration, but she
deserves some attention. The Obama administration had tapped Ms. Lopez after last November’s
election to build a semiautonomous school district within the Bureau of Prisons. Her program
was to offer literacy training, high-school diplomas, postsecondary classes, and more options for
prisoners with learning disabilities.

Last month Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated her, suggesting the Justice Department is
poised to abandon correctional education reform. It’s a mistake. This type of prison reform
benefits not only prisoners but public finances and public safety.

Every dollar spent on correctional education yields $4 to $5 in eventual savings, according to a
2013 Rand Corp. report, “How Effective is Correctional Education?” The study also found that
prisoner education reduces recidivism by as much as 43%.

That’s why I made a later-in-life transition from marketing for multinational corporations to
founding the nonprofit Petey Greene Program, which trains college students to enter correctional
facilities and tutor inmates preparing to take the high-school equivalency exam.

But as powerful as education is, often it’s outmatched by discrimination against people with
criminal records. Very few people leaving correctional custody find employment on their first try.

The Urban Institute found that only half of formerly incarcerated people were employed eight
months after release. It can take more than a year for a returning citizen to find a job—which
means that something in addition to knowledge distinguishes a successful person, postprison:

That tenacity comes from correctional education. More than two-thirds of prisoners lack a high-
school diploma. When they earn one, it’s one of the first accomplishments they can remember.

They learn that while success is never easy and may be delayed, it is still attainable if you work
hard enough.

It’s easy to underestimate how powerful this message is to people who have been conditioned to
think that they’re failures. Their pride in succeeding, and their self-confidence—feelings that
have eluded them for so long—carry them through the considerable challenges every returning
citizen faces in getting a job.

The federal prison system accounts for only about 10% of incarcerated people in the U.S., so
there’s plenty of room for innovation at the state level. But it’s a shame to lose Washington’s

Prominent conservatives like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the American
Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan have reminded us of our moral obligation to rehabilitate
incarcerated people. This shouldn’t be an issue that divides left from right.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The state of Texas has a school district – the Windham School District – that was established in 1969 and now operates in 89 prison sites. According to WSD, he typical Windham student functions at the sixth grade level. WSD provides a variety of academic classes and Career and Technical Education (CTE) to offenders incarcerated in the TDCJ, along with behavioral change programs.

Windham is also in charge of an Associate Degree program with instructors from nearly 20 community colleges. Four-year degree courses are also available. Inmates are supposed to repay the state for the courses they took once they have been released from prison, but almost all of them have failed to do so.

Some Republican lawmakers want to shut the college program down because law abiding citizens do not get a free education. They also want to cut the budget for the Windham School District.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I say give the inmates a free education. It makes good sense.