Prison College

From the Oregonian comes news that an anonymous donor recently decided to give money to the Oregon prison system so that inmates could complete college:

“At a time when public agencies and Oregonians are reeling from the effects of the current economic environment,” [Max Williams, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections] said, “it is even more impressive to know that one individual is investing in the safety of Oregonians and is supportive of creating opportunities for so many offenders.”

The program isn’t open to all prisoners. Inmates need to have at least 18 months of good conduct and be within five years of release. Once accepted, they must maintain at least a B average.

Getting a college degree in prison used to be fairly common. Then, in 1994 Congress ended Pell grants for prisoners. Since most convicted criminals are indigent, Pell grants are the only way for them to obtain a college degree.

One of the few remaining college prison programs is offered by tony Bard College at a maximum security prison in upstate New York. The donor apparently saw a 60 Minutes story about the success of the Bard program and decided he wanted in.

Of course, it does beg the question about how much this actually matters. Arguably a bachelor’s degree is of limited use for prisoners since, no matter what one’s education, going to prison pretty much eliminates the potential for a professional job. The Bard program, however, claims college-in-prison programs reduce the reincarceration rate by more than 75 percent.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer