Educate Prisoners with Life Sentences and on Death Row

By Christopher Zoukis

Prison education is a controversial subject due to strong emotions on both sides of the issue.  But it’s also an issue that has been the subject of a significant amount of published research — all of which supports the education of prisoners.  According to the research, prison education has a marked effect on reducing recidivism, the likelihood of a released inmate returning to crime, and, eventually, prison.  Enhanced access to prison education has proven to benefit society through reduced corrections costs, lowered crime and victimization, and improved community and public safety.

Almost all of the public discussion concerning prison education focuses on the substantial reductions in recidivism that educational programming in prisons produces.  While certainly a vital component of the public dialogue on the issue, it causes lesser, yet relevant, components to fall by the wayside.  For example, should prisoners that are unlikely to be released from custody due to a life sentence or death penalty sentence also have access to educational opportunities?  Should state or federal funding be used for these prisoners knowing that they may never be able to use this education outside of prison?  Should such programming be barred from them since they will never have a chance to recidivate, and, thus, this vastly important social benefit of prison education becomes a non-issue?

They should, and for several reasons.

Reductions in recidivism dominates the public’s dialogue on prison education.  It is the correctional education’s primary lobbying and belief conversion point.  But outside of reductions in recidivism, prison education fulfills additional goals, and, thus, providing education to inmates with life sentences and death sentences has merit for a number of reasons:

  • ·         Reductions in Prisoner Violence

Research in this area has proven that prison education reduces instances of prison misconduct and violence — a serious prison culture and administration problem that costs correctional authorities, and through them American taxpayers, many millions of dollars every year on enhanced security components and inmate misconduct adjudication.  Inmates need a healthy outlet for their time.  Allowing them to continue their education on the inside gives them a tremendously productive and pro-social activity.  This can transform minds and impact all who pass through the prison system, not solely those who engage in educational programming.  Such achievements also lower the risk of staff and inmate injuries due to violence and stress related illnesses.

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Building Them Up: Job Skills and Prison Education

By Christopher Zoukis

A simple online search will reveal a plethora of prison education programs designed to equip prisoners with skills for life after prison.  From community-based organizations to universities, there has been a growing consensus that releasing people from prison back into society without any training or education is likely to result in repeat offenses and subsequent jail time.  Yet in tough economic times, there is the pressing need to justify every expense and every program.  With education cuts in progress from coast to coast, many experts believe that decreasing funding for prison education programs is simply not an educated option.

The Need for Prison Education

According to Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education, 60 percent of released inmates return to prison (wesleyan.edu/cpe/about/whycip.html).  The center asserts that “severely reduced employment opportunities” is at the root of this problem.  Their education platform and similar initiatives in prison education target this problem by providing coursework that educates prisoners and teaches them valuable new skills that can help them lead more productive and more rewarding lives outside of prison. 

A Department Image courtesy reentryaftercare.orgChair at the College of New Jersey posted an article on Michael Moore.com asserting that “Over ninety percent of inmates eventually return to society,” (michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/how-cut-deficit-increase-prison-education-programs).  Many of these inmates have not completed high school and have no skill sets for making a living in society.  Few would argue that returning people as they are with no additional training or education will not yield a positive outcome—not for the majority who fall into that 60 percent of inmates who will return to prison.  In other words, there is a genuine need to bring that percent down and prison education is the key to making that happen.

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The Death Row Inmate Project

What follows is the text from a very informative zine titled DeathRowInmate.org: A Grassroots Anti-Death Penalty Social Network.

“The Death Row Inmate Project is a volunteer-based collaboration which continues to grow out of a call for global recognition of fallibilities within the capital punishment controversy, as well as wrongful convictions resulting from the death sentences from broken judicial systems here and abroad – executing innocent people.

This diverse grassroots organization provides a voice for the marginalized while catering to the demands of those who weep for societal change, dispelling horrific stigma while in pursuit of truth and equal justice, educating the people with an accurate flow of information, and working to remove the oppressive conditions on death rows around the world.

Born in the flames of adversity, even now, Death Row Inmates remains the direct product of the existential conflict of men and women alike on death row. It was formed to meet the needs of others like us, because no-one can better relate to captivity, than the captive himself. Think about that! From our tiny prison cells to yours (or that of a loved-one) between the caged will and intellect of your peers and the hearts and minds of our compatriots in the outside world, we hope to create a formidable alliance that works to transcend these dire circumstances. We’re staking our very lives on it!

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Death Row Inmates – Part 3: National Inmate Donor Registry

Welcome to the third and final post of the Death Row Inmates’ series. As previously noted, Death Row Inmates has been a good friend to me and to the cause of prison education. As such, I have decided to post three blogs for them which will introduce you to their vast efforts at criminal justice reform. This post is the final in the series.
Out of all of Death Row Inmates’ projects, their National Inmate Donor Registry project might be the most intriguing. It is certainly controversial, but does abide by sound logic and a need to make amends, to pay restitution by any means possible.
What follows is Death Row Inmates‘ document on their “National Inmate Donor Registry” project:
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Death Row Inmates – Part 2: The Papyrus Collective

Welcome to the second blog in the Death Row Inmates’ series. As mentioned in my last blog, DeathRowInmate.org and their founder Michael Flinner are good friends of the Prison Education Blog. Because I believe in their cause and appreciate all that they have done for prison education, I am posting three blogs for them to introduce their various projects to my readership. This is the second in that series. It is about The Papyrus Collective.
The Papyrus Collective’s information reads as follows:
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Death Row Inmates – Part 1: A Cause Worth Fighting For

Over the last four months many groups have approached me regarding my prison education projects and potential collaborations. One of which has really resonated with me – the opportunity of teaming up with Death Row Inmates. Death Row Inmates is headed by Michael Flinner. He is currently sitting on California’s death row and maintains his innocence to this day.
Over the last several months I have come to know Michael and his son John. Both have been very generous to me, aiding in promotions and listening to my ideas for the further promotion of prison education, ideas both good and bad. Throughout this process of conjecture and correspondence, I feel that I have come to know Michael and Death Row Inmates very well.
Therefore, it is only right to devote some space in the Prison Education Blog to their organization and movement. This blog and the two that follow will introduce you to Death Row Inmates and their various worthwhile projects.
What follows is the text from a very informative zine titled “DeathRowInmate.org: A Grassroots Anti-Death Penalty Social Network”:
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