By Christopher Zoukis
In 2017 a prison education pilot program was launched at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in Las Vegas. In 2018, the Center celebrated its first graduating class.
One graduate who did a speech at the ceremony said something very poignant about her new view of the world: “When I go out there, I don’t have to sit there and look at the doors and think that they’re closed to me. That is a big thing for a lot of us in here.”
It’s not ironic that women behind bars see more closed doors when they leave prison. While gainful employment upon release is a vital part of preventing recidivism, a lack of education, support, and stigma attached being a released offender prevents many from getting through, let alone getting to, a door of opportunity. The simple act of educating prisoners opens doors that lead to a better life for the ex-offender and stronger communities where the offender works and re-integrates.
Another graduate of the program called the chance at education, “The best opportunity I’ve had in my entire life.” Upon release, she plans to join the Laborer’s Union Local 872 (who partners with the program) and later go back to school to finish her nursing degree.
The pilot program saw 22 women graduate with college credits and vocational training, but the program is not a sure thing yet.
The educational program was created as a pilot thanks to a bill led by Senator Aaron Ford. His early life was fraught with worry that the electricity and gas in his home would be shut off due to the family’s inability to keep up with the bills. It wasn’t that his parents were not hard workers; they worked tirelessly to keep the family afloat. Some opportunities simply were not open to the Fords, sparking in Aaron desire to create a brighter future for himself and his community. Senator Ford is a now a former educator, an attorney, and a public servant who bills himself as “a leader who will fight for our future.”
He’s not afraid of a good fight to get that future and to open doors for those in need.
Ford told the graduates that the bill passed to create their educational program was not unanimous and that, “Everybody doesn’t support you — make no mistake about it. I need you to prove to those folks that they were wrong.”
While 22 lives have positively changed, the future of the program hangs in the balance. Thankfully, due to the early success of the program, it will also be offered in the High Desert State Prison. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a guarantee that the program will continue. Ford notes that the program will only continue if it can prove to be successful.
Education for prisoners has been proven to reduce recidivism and create safer, stronger, communities. It boosts the confidence of the ex-offenders and gives them the skills they need to become less reliant on the state. Prisoner education saves taxpayers thousands of dollars in the long run.
So why does this pilot program in Las Vegas have to continue to prove itself in order to stay afloat? Years of research have already established that point, and one only needs to look at the 22 graduates that are happily looking at the open doors they can now walk through. The program is a success. Let’s hope it continues.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.