Prison Education Basics 104 (A Little History Explains a Lot — or does it?)

By George Hook

A near universal belief is that education is an essential ingredient to minimizing recidivism.  Equally universal is the belief that federal and State prison education programs are too generally unavailable.  Some might state that Uncle Sam and the States are “criminally negligent” on this score.  Others might even delete “negligent” and assert that the “criminality” is specific, targeted and intentional.  Those making such assertions would not just be suffering prisoners, who might expect misunderstanding, at least, and even targeting.  Educators and administrators may be numbered among the jury as well.  Primarily, the educators and administrators are the ones more vocal, among them sociologists and criminologists, who do the statistical and other research, the most distressed and making the clarion call to reform.

Prison education is expensive.  Although the students and facilities are readily available, the teachers’ availability and access to them is quite problematic.  Usually, teachers have had to stand up before their students and lecture.  That means having teachers enter the prison facility.   Many, if not most, teachers from traditional backgrounds would be very wary about teaching in any prison environment or to persons regarded to be potentially, if not patently, dangerous, generally, if not so specifically, by the teachers individually.  Transporting groups of prisoners beyond the prison walls is substantially more bothersome, and, potentially more risky and dangerous.  Admitting teachers to prison and transporting prisoners to outside classrooms, both, have usually been substantially more expensive than the general public, as represented by their political voices in government, could tolerate.  So the more acceptable alternative has been the correspondence course curriculum.   

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