By Christopher Zoukis
Prison education programs work. That is a fact that has been backed up by numerous studies. For prison education to be truly effective, it must keep pace with the changing world. Thankfully, in many States, this is the case.
For example, the Maryland Department of Corrections (MDC) now uses tablets for its inmate GED program. Not only is the GED no longer offered on paper (in or out of prison), the use of tablets shows inmates how to use technology – a skill they will absolutely need on the outside.
Remember the TV show Life? Charlie Crews emerges from a 12-year prison stint and is completely baffled by things as common to us as automatic hand dryers. This challenge is not a problem limited to prime-time television. One inmate recalls being released when Bluetooth headsets were all the rage. He marveled at how people were walking around with a little thing in their ear and were talking to it! He said everyone looked like secret agents.
Remember, the digital shift was a very rapid one. We are only on the first generation of youth that doesn’t know a world before the Internet, cell phones, and home computers. Parents that hand their children a tablet for reading and games were using books and blocks when they were kids. Home computers only became common in the 80s and in under 40 years went from a big blocky thing with a floppy disk to a must-have high tech marvel guided by satellite technology and small enough to fit in one’s pocket. Inmates that went to jail as this tech was emerging are at risk of being very far behind if they are not exposed to digital tech as a regular part of prison education programs.
As prison education aims to reduce recidivism and help inmates gain life and job skills, it would be a shame to bestow a diploma on someone only to have him or her not be able to apply those skills in the outside world. These challenges are why institutions like MDC are switching from books to tablets, and why coding and tech classes are popping up in prisons nationwide.
Being taught about and using tech in prison education programs is an obvious step for a long-term, practical solution, balancing education surrounding technology with training in soft skills such as health and wellness, and money management round off an education that will set inmates up for success.
Changing nearly as fast as technology are the latest recommendations for healthy living. Over the past decade, there has been a massive push for Americans to eat better, as the simple act of getting those 5-7 fruits and veggies a day has a significant impact on health. It’s not just the lower blood pressure or stronger heart either. Healthy eaters are more productive, more creative, able to handle stress better and are more likely to seek out opportunities that can help them get ahead. Life skills needed to build and maintain a good life on the outside. As prison food is provided to inmates, cooking classes are vital to helping them learn how to make nutritious, cost-effective meals for themselves and their families upon release.
And let’s not forget about America’s “little” problem with debt. Nearly 90 percent of Americans carry a debt of some sort, and that debt can rob you of future potential. Classes in money management while in prison are essential as part of a round out education of hard and soft skills.
Prison education is vital for much-needed reform. It’s just as important to ensure the educational programs will genuinely prepare inmates for life on the outside. Thanks to the many socially-minded organizations and the watchful eye of the Department of Corrections, we are seeing more and more real-time programs and program delivery methods making their way behind bars.
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.