Classes that are available through the Maine Prison Education Program offer an Associates of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts as well as academic classes that include basic computer instruction, GED prep, typing, English, horticulture, science, and college prep math. College classes are also offered over ITV (interactive television). Special programs, such as art, creative writing, music, literature, language, and a pre-release exit program, are also offered by the Education Department.
No tax payer money is used in this program that enriches prisoners lives and helping to reduce rates of recidivism. Philanthropist Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, fully finances the program through her Sunshine Lady Foundation.
“They become engrossed in their studies. Idle minds, idle hands, a devil’s workshop,” Maine State Prison Warden Patricia Barnhart said. “You see a positive connection.”
Students that are accepted into the program stay stung and focused on their studies. If they do not fully follow prison rules, their rights to go to these fully funded classes are stripped away. For those prisoners that see that having a college degree is a way to escape the endless cycle of recidivism, the motivation is high to remain in school and obtain their degree.
The staff members of the Sunshine Lady Foundation wish to see as many college professors teaching at the prison as possible, as opposed to interactive television classes. They feel that hands on learning it more productive. Professors are carefully hand-picked for this assignment. Many professors appreciate the support and motivation that the prisoners give back to them. The prisoners are motivated to learn and enjoy the discussions from their homework assignments.
Another aspect of the in-prison college program is the shift of the prison culture. Many of the prisoners who used to spend their free time isolated from each other, have now come together to help with homework assignments, papers and tough classes. The prisoners are engaged mentally and their conduct in prison has vastly improved.
Getting into the college program is not always that easy. For one thing, applicants must have a fairly clean in- prison record. In addition, they need to stay out of trouble and must stay focused. Last year, only 15 out of 90 applicants sere approved.
A huge benefit to having ex-offenders get education while in prison is that they will be released one day, and many officials and citizens believe that it is a far better thing to have an educated ex-offender released in to the community, one who can find gainful employment and good housing, and become a part of the community.