In the fall of 2005, a Working Committee formed to address the lack of educational opportunity available to people returning from prison. The goal of the Committee was to establish a program that would offer hope and opportunity to people returning from prison by providing them with access to higher education. The Committee, comprised of leaders in Washington State’s social justice community, worked closely with imprisoned and formerly-imprisoned people, community colleges, social justice organizations, state universities, and the Washington State Department of Corrections (“DOC”) to develop the Post-Prison Education Program. Thereafter, the Committee incorporated as a Washington State non-profit, gained 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and admitted its first students.
On 12 January 2006, the DOC agreed to provide information about the Program during intake at Shelton (male intake) and Purdy (female intake), and in a chapter about post-secondary education in their “Re-Entry Guide.” The Program now receives applications on an almost-daily basis.
Within a year of inception, the Program was proud to see its first students enrolling in post-secondary education classes statewide.
During the 2006 legislative session, Program Board members and participants served on the Education & Employment Work Group of the Washington State Legislature’s SSB 6308 Reentry Task Force. Working with State legislators and their staff, Program members and participants reviewed research and correctional practices, providing the Reentry Task Force with recommendations to enhance public safety and improve the success rate of people reentering their communities from prison.
As of the 10 October 2006 joint meeting of the Advisory Committee and Board of Directors, the Program had expanded dramatically to the point it was decided to establish a Scholarship Committee to further develop policy for the Program’s admissions process and to address problems unique to transition and reentry. Reentry experts, educators, and academic counselors from local universities, and students who were formerly imprisoned serve on the Committee.
While early efforts focused exclusively on providing access to higher education, the scope of the Program has broadened to help students achieve other goals. For example, the Program helped one student who had successfully completed training at a vocational technical college purchase the tools she needed to begin work. And, Board members advocated on behalf of another student to help her gain admission into a prestigious internship with the Washington State Legislature. While the Program remains focused in large part on providing students with opportunities in higher education, it is also adapting to students’ individual goals with the ultimate aim of providing hope and opportunity, open doors, and rewarding futures.
The Program is currently working to secure additional sources of funding needed to admit the many qualified applicants seeking admission.