Post-Prison Education Program
To increase the number of released prisoners that transition successfully to state community colleges upon their release from prison in order that they reorient their lives, get back on track with their education, and gain the skills necessary to secure meaningful work at a living wage thereby reducing recidivism, economic crime, and prison overcrowding.
Currently, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, three out of every five released prisoners recidivate (DOL reports 650,000 people are released from prison yearly with three out of five re-offending within three to five years // DOJ reports that after release two out of three will re-offend). Many crimes are economic. People are being released from prison without requisite skills and resources necessary to find stable work at a living wage. Without adequate employment, many, if not most, are unable to secure safe and stable housing thus a destabilizing pattern of poverty, homelessness, and despair culminating in renewed criminal activity. Many people in prison lack skills they need to transition successfully to the work force. State community colleges could potentially provide rich resources for many of these individuals, but very few of those formerly imprisoned are taking advantage of this opportunity.
Washington State Department of Corrections (hereinafter “DOC”) leaders already are working to improve the scope and quality of educational opportunities offered within prisons. The Post-Prison Education Program proposes to supplement and extend their efforts by creating a "Bridge to College" program, a community based reentry program specifically for people who want to continue their education after their release. We recommend that the "Bridge to College" reentry program integrate socially relevant support and financial support, helping those formerly imprisoned successfully bridge the cultural gap between prison life and college life. By working together, the DOC and community groups can reinforce each other's efforts by matching educational opportunity during prison with educational opportunity after prison.
Constituency: Because they are incarcerated in disproportionately high numbers, the Post-Prison Education Program focuses its efforts on uneducated communities, low-income communities, and communities of color. We strive to involve individuals from these and other disenfranchised groups in each stage of the Program’s decision-making process clearly these individuals understand better than anyone the root causes of cycles of poverty and imprisonment. The Program works closely with organizations serving minority communities, such as the Racial Disparity Project, organizations serving low-income communities, such as SEA, and organizations assisting people during the process of reentry. Collaborations with constituents and constituent organizations inform the Program’s efforts, expand the influence of cooperating constituent organizations, and empower constituents to be a positive influence in our communities.
While the primary goal of the program is to provide imprisoned and formerly imprisoned individuals with access to higher education, subsequent benefits are the reduction of recidivism, economic crime, and prison overcrowding, which affect everyone in Washington State.
Recommendations for positive changes within the prison education system:
1. That DOC minimize the effect that prison transfers have on academic achievement either by reducing the number of prisoners who are transferred in the middle of a class or by designing curriculum that can transfer with the prisoner without loss of academic credit.
2. That the state legislature repeal those portions of HB 2010 that restrict academic instruction in prison. In today's knowledge based economy the critical thinking skills and communication skills that are developed in academic classes should be considered basic skills. These higher level "soft" skills play a critical role in creating employability and economic opportunity.
3. That DOC expand the Job Hunter Program to include academic advising and college access information in order that participants in the Job Hunter Program are offered the level of academic advising ordinarily found in high schools. (Many prisoners are high school drop-outs, and have never been offered these services.)
4. That through Job Hunter or Basic Skills classes, the DOC offer the COMPASS Test to prisoners (the placement test that community colleges give to new students). We recommend that if the prisoner wishes to go to college after release, but is not passing the COMPASS Test they be offered basic skills training that is designed to help them gain placement in freshman level classes immediately following release.
5. That DOC expand drug and alcohol treatment within prisons thus increasing the number of released prisoners who are ready for either work or school addicts are not ready for either.
6. That DOC increase its efforts to make certain that prisoners are released with sufficient ID and necessary paperwork to move on to the next step in their employment plan (including being released with transcripts of credits earned and certifications granted during their time in prison).
7. That DOC expand their efforts to partner with community groups that do prison outreach in order that prisoners are offered the widest possible variety of learning opportunities thus increasing the likelihood that they will find a learning opportunity that is a good match with the learning style and cultural heritage of that individual.
Recommendations for a "Bridge to College" Re-Entry Program:
1. A community based model that helps those formerly imprisoned to repair relationships with their families and communities of origin thereby at least partially creating maximum social support for their efforts to make positive changes.
2. Applicants to the program should be screened to make sure that they have both the academic and life skills requisite to succeed at the college level.
3. Participants in the program must be guaranteed safe, affordable, sober housing.
4. Participants should be offered free academic advising and career counseling. Advisers should work with each participant individually to develop an education and career plan that is based on the gifts, desires, and dreams of the student not externally imposed expectations.
5. Academic tracks should be encouraged not discouraged. Participants should be able to work towards an A.A. transfer degree and move on to a four year college or university.
6. Financial aid, in the form of scholarships, are necessary especially during the first quarter while the student files the FAFSA and waits for their federal financial aid award to be approved.
This proposal will not help all returnees find employment immediately. A comprehensive reentry support policy must also find solutions for people who do not want to return to school as well as people who desire further education, but who are not ready or able to succeed academically at the college level. Some of those formerly imprisoned carry significant burdens, such as mental illness, developmental disabilities, drug addiction, alcoholism, alienation, and despair. Nevertheless, it is equally true that the prison population contains individuals who are ready and able to succeed at college and whose life trajectories will be substantially improved by higher education.
When one person breaks out of the cycle of poverty and crime that person has a profound ripple effect on his or her peers, family, and community. Arrayed alongside other alternatives, a "Bridge to College" reentry program, combined with increased education opportunity within the prisons, will provide transformative opportunities for the formerly imprisoned who are ready and willing to use their local colleges as a bridge to a new career and improved life.