(Chicago) – Surveys have found striking levels of low education and high
illiteracy among people incarcerated in prison, and correctional education
programs addressing these needs have demonstrated success in reducing
recidivism. One comprehensive study found that individuals receiving correctional education services had 43 percent lower chances of recidivating compared to those who did not, as well as significant savings in prevented future incarceration costs.
By the mid-1960s, new federal aid for college bolstered
the provision of educational services in prisons, and by the early 1990s there
were approximately 772 higher-education programs in 1,287 correctional
facilities across the country. But in 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law
Enforcement Act (the “Crime Bill”) eliminated eligibility among people in prison
Grants designed to aid low-income students. States followed suit, and by
2005, the number of correctional higher education programs had dropped precipitously.
Based on research demonstrating the
effectiveness of education in reducing recidivism—including a comprehensive 2014 RAND study—in
2016, the Second
Chance Pell Pilot Program selected 67 colleges to partner with more than 100 state and federal correctional institutes to provide educational and training programming to thousands of incarcerated individuals, and authorized Pell Grants for incarcerated participants within the scope of the pilot program.
To move this initiative beyond the pilot
phase, earlier this year, bipartisan legislation entitled
the Restoring Education and Learning Act, or REAL Act, was introduced by
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and
colleagues (S.1074 and H.R.2168). If passed, this measure would eliminate the 1994 ban,
thereby restoring eligibility for low-income, incarcerated individuals to
access Pell Grant grants for higher education and workforce training.
Illinois could save $8–26 million annually on incarceration costs if the measure
passes, according to a Vera
In the meantime, in addition to the Second
Chance Pell Pilot Program, a number of efforts to offer education and training
within correctional settings are under way. Examples include the Inside-Out Prison Exchange
Program, which began in Pennsylvania in 1995 and has since expanded across
the nation. The program brings college students and incarcerated students together
to learn in prison-based classrooms, and facilitates access to college credits
for incarcerated students. Another example is the Prison Education Project,
which began in California in 2011. It recruits university student and faculty
volunteers to provide academic, life skills, and career development courses to
people incarcerated in prisons.
Prison Initiative (BPI) was founded by undergraduate students in 1999,
bringing rigorous college courses and extracurriculars to incarcerated students
inside six New York State prisons. The documentary series, College Behind Bars, explores the program through personal interviews with several students and faculty, and footage of classes. Many students work toward an associate’s degree and some toward a bachelor’s degree. Students receive a liberal arts education that meets the same curriculum requirements as traditional students at the college. Course subjects include economics, mathematics, writing and literature, anthropology, science, history, and foreign language. Debate team, poetry slam, and other extracurriculars are also offered. Students seeking a bachelor’s degree must complete a senior thesis project.
Beyond high school equivalency and basic education, Illinois
post-secondary vocational training and education, relying on
partnerships with local institutions, including the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), DePaul University, and Lake Land College. UIUC’s Education Justice Program
provides college courses to individuals incarcerated at Danville Correctional
Center for college credits. The program also offers writing, math, and science
workshops, hosts a radio show, provides English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses,
and works with participants’ families and communities to provide support and
is one of three Illinois universities participating in the Inside-Out
Prison Exchange Program network, offering integrated courses at Stateville
Correctional Center and Cook County Jail. Incarcerated students earn college
in the network are Benedictine University and Rend
Lake College. Lake
offers courses in many adult and juvenile facilities throughout the state, providing degree credit or certificates in areas such as horticulture, construction, or custodial services.