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Report Gives States Failing Grade in Inmate Education

Sing Sing

Incarcerees at a college course in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State. Photo courtesy Hudson link for Higher Education in Prison

A new national report shows how state policies fail to support, and often restrict, incarcerated people from accessing continued education, despite research showing that such education can significantly reduce re-offending and increase employment rates, says the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

The report, “Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System,” says that only 10 states allow all people behind bars to access college and employment certification courses, while the rest prohibit some inmates from participating.

Barriers to education follow former prisoners, the report says. Half of public universities in the U.S. require applicants for admission to disclose their criminal history.  This practice has been shown to discourage potential students from applying.

Most states can’t attribute these challenges to a lack of resources, the report says. Only three states use all of the federal funding available to support post-secondary education for people in prison. Two-thirds of states restrict state-based financial aid for currently and formerly incarcerated students.

The report is based on data collected through surveys of all 50 state correctional agency education directors and parole-granting agencies, as well as extensive online research on state statutes, regulations, and administrative policies, and university application processes.

“Laying the Groundwork” suggests four “essential building blocks” to make postsecondary education accessible to people affected by the criminal justice system: making use of available funding, offering programming aligned with local employer needs, eliminating restrictions on participation, and providing incentives to encourage participation and completion.

The report contends that no state has all four of these basic elements in place.

The report was funded by Lumina Foundation.

This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.