Shira Moskowitz Gina McConnell-Otten turned 12 the day she ran away to escape her abusive home in Lake Stevens. She was 15 when she got addicted to cocaine and 29 when she served her first sentence in a Washington stateRead More
By Kaitlin Mulhere Twenty-five miles from Montgomery, Ala., in the middle of the tough-on-crime, fiscally conservative Deep South, sits an unusual place of learning. A 20-foot fence with razor wire surrounds the campus. Armed guards stand at the entrances. StudentsRead More
Dr Nikhil Pal Singh, an Indian-American professor, is leading a unique New York University initiative to bring college education to the inmates of a medium-security prison in New York state. Backed by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, NYU’sRead More
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The State of Washington is planning to change how it has delivered education to its incarcerated; the state now plans to allow the Department of Corrections to spend money on college-level education in its prisons.
College education for prison inmates has always been a hard sell to the American public. Back in the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, with crime rates and victimization soaring, the American people had enough. They — and, in particular, their representatives in D.C. and their state capitols — engaged in a campaign to cut any perceived amenities for prison inmates and to lock up as many wrongdoers as possible and throw away the key. It felt good to crime victims to see these wrongdoers punished and it felt like social progress to the lawmakers who enacted the supporting legislation.
Fast forward twenty to thirty years and the situation has changed drastically. Crime rates are down; in some cases, at historically low levels. The murder rate in Washington State alone is at levels akin to those of the 1970s. Regardless of this, the United States now incarcerates over 2 million prison inmates, and has several million more on probation, parole, or under other forms of community correctional control. While the U.S. holds around 5 percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Something is clearly wrong with our crime control policies.
Developed by Auburn University, the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP) is committed to providing educational access and opportunities to prisoners in Alabama’s prisons. By helping prisoners reconnect with learning aspirations, the program believes it can help prisoners embrace education and transform their lives positively for the rest of their lives. The program delivers “educational experiences in the arts, humanities, hard sciences, and human sciences.” These courses have the potential to profoundly help prisoners redirect their perspectives about their pasts as well as their future lives.
Coursework and ‘An Air of Purpose’
The program’s website reports that one prison warden could easily tell which inmates were involved with the program by their “air of purpose.” This in itself is one of the program’s great benefits. APAEP delivers a wide array of courses that provide intellectual stimulation and, of course, provide the inmates with an Auburn University transcript of completed coursework. Although the program is not designed as a degree-track initiative, the participating prisoners are delighted to have college-level coursework under their belts. Having this college experience behind them is often the catalyst they need to continue their education post-prison.
Hudson Link is a prison-education program that was begun as the result of a direct request from prisoners incarcerated in New York’s Sing Sing who lamented the loss of government-funded educational initiatives and reached out to religious as well as academic volunteers associated with the prison. After the government ended Pell and Tap grants for prisoners, many New Yorkers began to feel uneasy about the lack of education making it into prisons where it seems so desperately needed to transform lives and break the poverty cycle. Founded in 1998, Hudson Link now enrolls roughly 250 inmates annually and has partners with other correctional facilities.
Hudson Link’s Program Range
While the initiative began with Sing Sing, Hudson Link now has programs at Sing Sing as well as other correctional facilities. Currently Hudson Link offers Associates Degree-track coursework (at Taconic Correctional Facility) and A.A. and B.S. degrees in Behavioral Science at Sing Sing. Other program offerings include college preparatory training, A.A. Degree coursework in Liberal Arts, and a B.S. Degree in Organizational Management (available at Fishkill Correctional Facility.
The programs are run with the help of New York colleges and universities. The Sing Sing Behavioral Science Degrees, for example, are supported by Mercy College which is known for its challenging program. Mercy began working with Hudson Link back in 2002 and is now renowned throughout the state and has grown to become one of the largest programs within the state of New York. The Liberal Arts coursework offered by SUNY Sullivan Community College is one of the newest programs offered by Hudson Link and is offered at the Sullivan Correctional Facility.