By The Jackson Sun
People go to prison for reasons too many to mention. But what we know is that, except for the most dangerous violent criminals, the vast majority of prisoners someday will get out and return to their home communities. What happens to them next can mean the difference between lifelong problems and becoming productive citizens. A small program at Lipscomb University in Nashville is a good model that can offer hope and opportunity to prisoners who are serious about turning their lives around.
On Dec. 13, Lipscomb will graduate nine inmates with post-secondary associate’s degrees. Eight will come from the Tennessee Prison for Women, and one from another penal institution. These women have spent their time behind bars working to improve their lives through education. Lipscomb began this program eight years ago. It provides professors who go to the prison each week to conduct college classes. Lipscomb also has regular students join in classes held at the prison. This helps offer inmates a valuable non-prison point of view of life, along with a more real-world mix of people they someday will meet in the workplace.
In its essence, prison is punishment for breaking the law. It is not a pleasant environment, and those who have been there will attest that there are no “country club” prisons. But that doesn’t have to mean that some inmates can begin to improve their lives, even while serving their sentences.
By Emily Aronson, Office of Communications
Two years ago, Reginald Murph was in prison for the second time. Today, he is a sophomore at Rutgers University. He credits Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative with helping give him a second chance.
The Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI) offers credit-earning college courses to inmates at three New Jersey correctional facilities. More than 70 Princeton faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and alumni volunteer to teach classes in English, mathematics, science and other subjects spanning the liberal arts.
Since the program began eight years ago, nearly 500 inmates have earned college credits by taking PTI classes. Credits may be transferred to any community college in New Jersey as well as a handful of public colleges and universities in the state.
“The Princeton classes made me feel like a student. And feeling like a student in prison was a really good feeling,” said Murph, who is studying social work at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “To sit at my desk and really focus on writing an essay. To step outside of myself for an hour and feel like a somewhat normal person.
“I was doing something in prison. I didn’t lose my hope. A lot of people in prison can go backwards, or stay the same. Or you can propel forward,” Murph continued. “Education is necessary to propel forward.”
PTI’s mission is to reduce incarceration and recidivism rates in the state, especially among poor and minority communities, by providing inmates with the education and skills they need to lead productive, intellectually engaged lives while in prison and when they get out.
The North Carolina Department of Correction works with UNC-Chapel Hill’s Friday Center for Continuing Education to provide a variety of tuition-free university courses and educational services to inmates. Only those incarcerated in the North Carolina prison system qualify for the Correctional Education Program.
Since 1974, 167 participants in Correctional Education’s on-campus study-release program have earned college degrees, including three doctorates and eighteen master of arts or master of science degrees. Many have gone on to thrive in professional jobs. The recidivism rate of study-release participants is only 7 percent.
Who is Eligible?
Incarcerated individuals must meet academic and sentence criteria for eligibility. The academic criteria are a GED score of at least 250, a WRAT reading grade level of at least 10.0, or prior college (or community college) academic credits. The sentence criteria exclude all Class A and Class B felons, as well as other adult offenders whose parole eligibility and discharge dates are more than 10 years in the future. The 18- to 25-year-old individuals funded by Federal Youth Offender Act grants must be within five years of parole eligibility or discharge date.
Qualified inmates should contact a Programs or Education staff member, preferably their case worker, at their correctional facility
They were code words. Employed in the opening salvos of the Reagan Revolution, the irresponsible “unwed mother”, lazy “welfare queen”, parasitic “drug dealer” and dangerous “gang-banger” were not-so-subtle euphemisms for the poor and people of color. The conservative movement’s concerted onslaught on the more inclusive entitlement and social safety net programs inspired by the New Deal era of government commenced, however, against the politically powerless and publicly vilified prisoner.
While the more overt War on Drugs with the attendant abolition of parole, mandatory minimum sentences, and expanded death penalty would take years to enact and for the crushing consequences to be felt, the initial forays against prisoners was fired by Virginia Congressman William Whitehurst in 1982, when he submitted legislation to rollback inmate Pell Grant disbursements. By 1991, senators and representatives from both parties (primarily from the old Confederacy) repeatedly introduced legislation to exclude “any individual who is incarcerated in any federal or state penal institution” from qualifying for Pell Grant assistance. For a decade, the various annual exclusion-fest amendments either did not make it out of their committees, or if passed on floor votes, were struck in the joint resolution committees.
Then in 1991, the primary force behind the eventually successful exclusionary legislation, Senator Jesse Helms, pontificated “the American taxpayers are being forced to pay taxes to provide free college tuitions for prisoners at a time when so many law abiding, tax-paying citizens are struggling to find enough money to send their children to college.” The following year, Representative Thomas Coleman claimed 100,000 prisoners unrightfully received Pell Grants. And in 1993, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison stated that prisoners “received as much as $200 million in Pell funds.”
By Garry W. Johnson
You just can’t trust anybody anymore. GED and college correspondence graduates are finding more and more that the certificates they worked so hard for (and/or paid through the nose for) are not worth the paper they are printed on. Even worse, some are being ripped off through scholarship scams with nothing to show for their effort but debt.
If you’ve come into the prison system and find yourself sitting in a GED class because your credentials were “unverifiable,” you are not alone. Students across the country are finding GEDs they paid as much as $1,500 for are nothing more than counterfeits produced by a “diploma mill.”
These non-accredited correspondence or distance learning schools have been around for decades, but the internet has now enabled them to reach a much larger audience and expand more into the GED market.
As Washington continues to monkey with the unstable economy and unemployment skyrockets, high school dropouts are finding themselves with even poorer job prospects and turning to these mills in desperation. Statistics from the official General Education Development (GED) program in North Carolina show 14,364 people completing the test in the fiscal year 2011-2012. That was up from 13,028 in 2009-2010 and 12,817 the year before that.
Instead of increasing their ability to obtain or hold a job, the victims of GED scams find themselves squandering money they don’t have and making themselves subject to job termination, lawsuits and criminal prosecution. “I don’t know how someone who has any kind of conscience can make money from people who are already struggling,” said C.T. Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service in Washington.
When he did so last week, the 37-year-old was nervous and excited. Just the day before, his mother had texted him this message: “Every decision you’ve made has brought you to this moment.”
Jackson has not been proud of some of those decisions.
But when he walked into the recreation room at the minimum-security prison in Salem and saw that every seat in the house was occupied by a body in a blue “Oregon Department of Corrections INMATE” shirt, he swelled with pride.
The prisoners in the room did not have to be there to listen to him speak. Jackson knew that from experience.
“It’s hard to describe a moment like this,” he said to his audience, “but it has to be one of the most proud moments of my life.”