Push the Pen: More Classrooms, Fewer Cages!

“(Prisoners) need an education. They need a GED to start with. Then they need some kind of training so when they get out they have a marketable skill. That way they can support themselves, and they can support their families.” ― Christopher Zoukis, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons

It is easy to demonstrate the value of education in prison quickly: reduced recidivism, increased personal income, lower unemployment, even improved health outcomes result from prison education. It is easy to say and point out, but the stakes are much higher for those serving time together. 

This is your life and future we are discussing, not just data points on a chart. You may instead be asking questions like if education is a key for us, how are we supposed to benefit if nothing is being offered? How do you benefit if the waiting list is six months or longer? How can we help if their sentence is too long to qualify for any programs? 


So our first question is, what is going on with education in the prison system? If we Google search that very question, the first five news results are as follows: 

  1. Wisconsin is making progress to help more inmates get college educations-which can completely redefine a life.
  2. Financial Aid is Restored for Prisoners as Part of the Stimulus Bill
  3. University of California to launch its first Bachelor’s Program in Prison
  4. In a Washington State Prison Latinos are Advocating for Mentoring and Education
  5. Pennsylvania Corrections, Parole Officials Recognize Education, Barber/Cosmetology, Library, Activities And Religious Staff

Breaking Down the Results

Immediately these headlines raise some questions for people that have more at stake. If your partner is serving time in Wisconsin, do they qualify to get a college education? Sure they can ask, but so can you. You can email the staff at the prison and mention the news headline; write letters to your local legislatures or call them and ask; explain that progress is tremendous. 

Who qualifies and how? If your loved one is disqualified, ask them what they are doing about it. If your legislatures don’t know who qualifies, ask them why and you could even write to the newspapers that they don’t know who qualifies and no one is telling you—all of that in response to a headline. You can also ask your loved one to tell others in prison to have their loved ones write. You can even give them an example of what to write. 

The second headline is one that you need to follow closely. Financial Aid is Restored for Prisoners is a massive development and will allow any prisoner that qualifies to get financial aid towards a college education behind bars. You need to find out what the prison is doing to help these individuals to set up and do the paperwork that will be required. Some prison libraries have already volunteered to aid in this process, has yours? 

Your loved one can ask questions, but you have time, email, or phone abilities that they don’t. College can be a plausible solution for those that have extensive sentences to get some programming and education. It is important to pursue it. You should also follow the developments of this story, which has articles posting daily.

The two other points that jump off the page are the Latino community seeking mentors and education to help them. Who are they writing to? What do they need? Serving time together means helping one another when you can. Pennsylvania’s headline also makes one wonder if their loved one has done qualifying programs through the library and other areas. The answer is a letter, email, or phone call away. 

Use Your Voice

It is 2021 now and that means there will be legislation to follow about prison education, and you should get involved with your voice.

You will need to urge them to pass these Bills, add these programs, and most importantly, listen. That is why you need to be informed. You have to know the critical studies that demonstrate the value of education. 

Helpful Articles

How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here?

National Directory of Higher Education in Prison Programs

Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons

Think about the research and information you gather and seek friends to help you write and converse about everything you ultimately want. A chance for your partner to obtain the skills needed to be able to start over. A chance to go beyond the GED in prison and to have a fighting chance once reentry begins. You both deserve that.