By Eric Schulzke, Deseret News
That education plays a key role in keeping children and adults out of trouble is widely understood, and yet there has been surprisingly little effort to figure out the role education plays in reforming prisoners.
This fall, three states will set out on a five-year journey to change that. Sponsored by the Vera Institute of Justice and funded by some of the most prominent charities, including the Bill and Melinda Gates, Ford, Kellogg, Open Society and Sunshine Lady foundations, Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina will take prisoners two years before their release and put them in an intensive education program of vocational or college coursework.
Prisoners who complete the program, called Pathways, in prison will then continue their coursework on the outside, transitioning without interruption from there to the employment market.
Twenty years ago prisoners could receive Pell grants for college coursework, but critics saw this as coddling criminals at taxpayer expense and eligibility was stripped in 1994. Higher education in prisons has languished since then, becoming heavily dependent on private efforts, and it varies widely from state to state and prison to prison.
The five-year experiment will be evaluated by the RAND Corporation, said Fred Patrick, who is spearheading the program for the Vera Institute of Justice. Patrick hopes the resulting data will “move the needle” on public investment for prisoner education.