It is estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of job postings will require at least some level of college education in order to be considered for the positions. For incarcerated individuals on the cusp of being released who may have no prior education, this glooming statistic may diminish any remaining hope. However, in the wake of our country’s mass incarceration problem, some good is manifesting in the form of prison education.
Many educators and policy makers agree that allowing prisoners to pursue degrees and/or certificates while serving is one of the best ways to reacclimate them to civilian life upon release. This would allow ex–convicts to land on their feet and reestablish their lives, setting themselves up for success in the working world and finding a suitable career. The glaring issue, however, is the lack of government funding for such programs.
In 1994, Bill Clinton signed the Crime Bill, which prohibited incarcerated men and women seeking an education from receiving federal student aid. This forced states and colleges to pay for all prison education programs, causing a string of foldings across the country. Luckily, universities and community colleges have been actively promoting their prison education programs in recent years, attempting to grow awareness and increase funding.
The Second Chance Pell is a pilot program created by the Obama administration in 2015 that gives the U.S. Department of Education much more flexibility in providing federal aid to incarcerated students. This has been funded through 2019 by the Trump administration and is currently being further analyzed, which could lead to Congress lifting the ban on federal funding altogether should the findings be that it is an effective program.
Sinclair Community College is one of these schools taking part in the Second Chance Pell, and has seen remarkable progress in such a short period of time. Today, they are working with 10 Michigan state prisons offering federal and financial aid to over 600 inmates. There are 28 prisons throughout the state, however, and working with all of them is the college’s end goal, as stated by the program’s coordinator Cheryl Taylor.
The Lumina Foundation is another organization currently funding prison education programs at San Quentin State Prison in California. Their goal is to develop better means of providing education to incarcerated individuals, working alongside donors, state programs, and regular funders.
More and more states and universities are seeing the mass incarceration issue as a blow to the U.S. labor force as well, regarding inmates as untapped potential, especially due to the fact that most jobs today require college degrees or certificates. Should these educational programs continue to make strides throughout our country’s prisons, a plethora of benefits could manifest, including a potential resolution to mass incarceration as a whole.