‘College education in American prisons is starting to grow again, more than two decades since federal government dollars were prohibited from being used for college programs behind bars.
The shift comes as everyone from President Barack Obama to state policymakers are looking for ways to get better results from the $80 billion the U.S. spends annually on incarceration.
Private money kept some prison education programs going when government dollars vanished. Several recent studies have shown those projects cut crime and prison costs by helping inmates go home and stay there instead of returning.
"Education in prison is transformative. It leads to safer communities and that's to the benefit of everyone," said Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit that combines research and demonstration projects associated with criminal justice.
Now more dollars are starting to follow those results, led by a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education to experiment again with federal Pell Grants for inmate students. Forty-seven states have applied to participate in that program. States such as Washington, New York and California also are looking into spending more state dollars on these programs.
Rudy Madrigal, a student in Washington's University Behind Bars program, said the experience transformed his life.
Madrigal, who expects to serve about 24 years for second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon, said he had a rough start to his sentence, getting in fights and other trouble.
He took his first class as another way to pass the time, but started getting excited about school after really connecting with a math teacher and finding out he could work toward a degree with a scholarship from a private foundation.
"Since I started school and educating myself, I've built up connections not just with people in here but with people out there," said Madrigal, who hopes after prison to get into social services to help other people.
While his path is personally enriching, state officials and prison experts say the community is the real beneficiary. A Rand Corporation study on education in prisons found inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars are 43 percent less likely to reoffend. – Mail Online