Educate Prisoners!

By · Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The Pell Grant ought to be available to people in prison. Congress provided that funding to help poor people advance their education. People who have access to higher education make greater contributions to society. They earn higher incomes than those without an education, and the incomes they receive stimulate the economy. Further, the taxes those higher incomes generate provide an ample return on the educational expenditures through Pell grants.

I was a recipient of the Pell Grant program when I began serving my term, in 1987. As a consequence of my imprisonment, I was poor. I had no income. Thus I qualified for the grant, and because of it I earned an undergraduate degree from Mercer University. That degree led me to an opportunity to earn a graduate degree from Hofstra University. Those educational accomplishments opened opportunities for me to make meaningful contributions to society. Those opportunities generated tax revenues that more than compensated for the expenditures that went for my education. Taxpayers thus have already been compensated for my education, and they will continue to reap returns as a consequence of my higher earning power and my certainty of living as a better citizen than I would have been had I not educated myself during my prison term.

All citizens who lack a sufficient income to pay for their education ought to have access to Pell Grants. That is wise public policy because it contributes to a more enlightened society. Those in prison should not receive an easier ride than anyone in society, though citizens should encourage rather than deny prisoners opportunities to earn academic credentials. It makes good sense.

Jennifer is a criminal justice student who asked me why prisoners should have it easier than students who were not in prison. Those in prison do not have it easier. Prisoners must still work. It’s just that they do not earn an income for their labor. I would not object to programs that required prisoners to perform more community service to earn their access to education. Society should recognize, however, that it reaps a higher return through investment in education than it does through the massive, wasteful expenditures on prisons as depicted through the Pew Report.

Despite the educational credentials I have earned, I expect to encounter numerous obstacles upon my release. I will have served 25 years. That concern motivates me to work exceptionally hard. Readers may follow my prison routine by reading my published statement of Values and Goals as well as my Prison Journal entries. If administrators were to support prison reforms that offered more incentives, I think more prisoners would adjust positively. Unfortunately, as high recidivism rates show, most prisoners fail upon release.

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One Response to “Educate Prisoners!”

  1. Beth says:

    I agree.