Until recently, state funds could not be used for prison education programs. Now, Governor Rick Scott has changed that by signing a bill allowing the Florida Department of Corrections to partner with colleges and local school districts to provide education to inmates under a program called Postsecondary Workforce Education (PWE). Florida inmates with 24 months or less on their sentence are eligible for the program.
With access to public schools, Florida Virtual School (FLVS), and some charter schools, the PWE program is extensive, offering everything from career certification programs and apprenticeships to degree programs.
Access to FLVS is an innovative option. Providing fully accredited courses in a personalized online learning environment, FLVS students can choose from more than 150 courses. All the core courses (English, math, science, physical education, and social studies) are available, as are electives, such as creative photography, journalism, personal and family finance, theater, cinema and film production, parenting skills, peer counselling and more.
Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole) supports the new law. “One of the biggest challenges anyone has – and especially someone who’s been in the prison system–is finding a job. Especially at today’s skill level, minimum requirements are a high school diploma, which some of these men and women have not obtained.”
Lois M. Davis, a senior policy researcher and professor with Pardee RAND Graduate School, participated in an NPR (National Public Radio Inc.) interview about the power of prisoner education.
“When we think about the school-to-prison pipeline story—about the failure of the educational attainment for many of these individuals—when they get to prison it is a chance to address those deficits,” she said.
Davis went on to note that after analyzing 30 years research, she and her team found a 13 per cent reduction of reincarceration for inmates that participated in any type of prison education program (adult education, GED, college courses, vocational training), and a 16 per cent reduction for inmates that took post-secondary training. She calls these numbers “substantial reductions.”
The benefits of prisoner education programs extend to communities too.
“Education is a relatively low-cost program you can provide to inmates. But, when you look simply at direct costs, we find that for every dollar invested in a prison education program will ultimately save taxpayers between $4 and $5 in reincarceration costs. That’s an enormous savings,” said Davis.
Any way you look at it, PWE simply makes sense. In fact, the new law allowing state funds for prisoner education is the type of effective common sense that will make a measurable difference in the lives of inmates, and the communities they join after release. PWE uses existing, proven channels of education to educate prisoners. It’s a solution that is simple and elegant in its design and execution–use something already working to solve an existing problem.
As Florida releases educated prisoners with the skills to hold down a job and take care of themselves, perhaps other states will take note, enact similar bills, and continue to make headway in the ongoing issue of prisoner education.
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.