Should We Let More Prisoners Take College Classes?

By Andrea Brody

Earlier this month an editorial was published in the New York Times from an unusual source. The writer was John J. Lennon, an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, who’s currently serving a 28 years to life sentence for drug dealing and a murder he committed in 2001.

He is one of 23 out of 2,300 inmates participating in an education program, and he advocates greater access to education in prison through TV. Currently, he says the TV is used as “an incapacitation tool; it’s a tool to keep us entertained in cells.” But he suggests that prison TVs should stream online courses instead of movies.

“If inmates had the chance to watch [an online course] then they might say, “Hey, look what’s on Channel 3, it’s an interesting lecture from a Duke professor on existentialism or philosophy. Believe it or not, people will tune in, and after the lecture they’re going to go on their gates, hang on their bars, and they’re going to talk about it.” 

Education, he says, also makes prison a safer place.

“If I’m working on a paper banging away on my typewriter, I have other things on my mind. I’m not shucking and jiving in the prison yard” —‚ and most prison administrators support that view. “They understand it’s makes prison a safer place if you have a group of guys with their eyes on the prize who are trying to change themselves.” 

John J. Lennon arrived at Attica in 2004 with a 9th grade education, but in May will graduate with a two-year associate degree. Attica creative writing workshops have changed his life.

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