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Lessons in Lock up - Why Do We Care Whether Prisoners Become Educated?

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Lessons in Lock Up

Why do we care whether prisoners become educated? Do we care because the lack of quality education is one of the major causes of criminal activity? When neighborhoods are falling apart, schools are under-funded, and there is little hope of making a living, many young people make horrendous mistakes with their lives and end up behind bars. If society does not take the opportunity to educate them while they are incarcerated, what are the chances they will make similar mistakes and revert to criminal activity after they are released? By helping these inmates gain an education, are we not enabling them to make wiser life choices, while helping to reduce recidivism rates, thus saving a huge amount of money for local and state governments? An educated inmate is much better suited to establish a law-abiding career for themselves, a better life for their families, enabling him/her to give back to their local community and all the while becoming a more productive member of society in general.

There are both pros and cons when the subject of educating prisoners is concerned. As a single parent struggling with academic finances myself, I can understand the public being outraged to see their hard-earned taxes funding degrees for prisoners while most people have to pay their own way through college by taking out loans. Not only does this seem unfair to those who do the right thing, pay their own way and do not break the law, but it could also send out the signal that crime pays.

Some individuals would say that educating prisoners makes them smarter criminals. Some prisoners sign up for educational classes with no intention of furthering their education or skills. The only reason they are even in the class is to pass the time or to make it appear that they "put forth an effort" when it comes time for parole. However, there are enough repeat offenders who have been educated while imprisoned to conclude that the prison education system does not establish a pattern of change or remorse of hardened criminals.

Many victim rights groups view educating criminals as ignoring the victims. Education is a key to productivity, which in turn leads to a more prosperous life. Others may feel that educating prisoners does not mean productivity and a more prosperous life for them because they remain behind bars. So why not give the education to someone who can use it? According to an article by Gillian Granoff, "In 1994 the government issued a federal crime bill, which made any inmate regardless of federal or state, ineligible to receive Pell Grants that had provided scholarships for prisoners to earn a bachelors degree while incarcerated." (Granoff, 1994)

The flip side to the "debate" is that through state sponsored programs, the benefits of prison education are a bargain for us taxpayers. Whereas the cost of an education in general and post-secondary education varies from state to state, statistics show education costs are generally one-tenth as much as annual incarceration expense. According to our text, "Jails and prisons bear the responsibility of educating, training, and treating convicts while incarcerated. In doing so, the hope is that offenders will acquire the necessary skills that will keep them from recidivating" (Arrigo, 2006, p.286).

In 1985, New York City decided to take a different approach concerning the education of its juvenile offenders thanks to what is now known as The MacCormick Island Academy. Juvenille offenders who were incarnated at Rikers Island Jail, either inmates or attendees, were required to attend mandatory high school classes. "New York is one of only three states that automatically prosecute 16 and 17 year olds in adult court. State law mandates high school until the age of 17, so jailhouse education is compulsory. Once they are incarcerated, the inmates, who must be sentenced to less than a year in order to stay at Rikers, and the detainees (youths who are unable to post bail or bond) attend classes five days a week. Eighty percent of the inmates attending Rikers' high schools read at the sixth- grade level, and forty one percent to fifty five percent are special education students, according to the New York City Department of Education" (Lion, 2011).

The MacCormick Island Academy also has an outstanding vocational program as well. Classes ranging from auto mechanic, welding, heating and air-conditioning repair to cosmetology



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