Prison College

Prisoners are anxious to get college degrees, too. From Oklahoma comes news of a surprisingly interest in higher education. According to an article by Sara Plummer in Tulsa World:

About 40 offenders are enrolled in college courses this summer in both minimum- and medium-security units, and that number will rise to more than 100 in the fall. The students spend about six hours a day in class, and different subjects are taught each day. At least one of those classes, algebra, is funded completely by Tulsa Community College’s Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, which raises money to fund classes and scholarships for offenders, [Dick Conner Correctional Center college coordinator Ida] Doyle said.

Generous funding is necessary because prisoners, while perhaps theoretically the sort people who might most benefit from additional vocational training, aren’t eligible for financial aid like Pell grants. While the prisoner interviewed for the Plummer story admitted that he first started to take classes in computer information systems simply because he was bored, there’s another reason prisons offer college-level classes: it’s supposed to make prison more effective. As Plummer explains:

With degrees, the men’s chances of finding work when they are released increase and the chances of them returning to prison decrease, Dyer said. “They’ll be contributing to the economic base, not taking away from it,” she said. “The foundation is helping make these guys not become reoffenders but become taxpayers.

It’s no doubt a very good thing to offer education to prisoners. Simply providing people with an opportunity to learn and develop new skills should be commended. But the accuracy of Dyer’s assertion is questionable. Being in prison at all tends to act as a major barrier to even the dirtiest and most dangerous forms of employment, whether or not one went to college.

Unemployment in the United States currently stands at 9.5 percent and news outlets everywhere are running stories about jobless people with master’s degrees. In an economy like this, does getting a college degree while incarcerated even help?

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