The liberal arts teach the techniques of freedom
January 17, 2007 3:20 PM   Subscribe

The Bard Prison Initiative is one of a very few programs in the country still supplying post-secondary education to inmates. After the Congress eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners, these programs must be privately funded. Bard just gives it away. The great thing is, education reduces recidivism.
posted by anotherpanacea (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting post, thank you.

I know several people with prison records who have got college degrees and successful careers. Among them: a guy who went on to become a prison warden and corrections adminstrator (had to get a Masters Degree for that one) and another who got a civil engineering job with a local government.

(I have interesting friends)
posted by marxchivist at 3:36 PM on January 17, 2007

How about chair of Columbia University Film Department?
posted by cal71 at 3:37 PM on January 17, 2007

How about President of South Africa?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2007

It particularly infuriates me that Congress thinks its a good idea to punish criminals (esp. drug offenders) by denying them easier access to education. I do not believe that prison should be for rehabilitation and even if I did, the modern prison system (post-1880) has little to with rehabilitation anyway. But, why deny prisoners the same access to education as everyone else. How does stopping criminals from bettering themselves a positive for anyone?

And clearly there is little to no deterrent effect in holding this over potential criminals' heads as a potential punishment, so that is hardly a justification (and the only even remotely plausible one I can think of).
posted by Falconetti at 3:52 PM on January 17, 2007

"What job that requires a college degree would accept someone with a prison record?"

Quite a few of them. It will certainly depend on the position, the person, and the situation.

Also in some states, you can get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor if the crime was a wobbler.

I have a friend that just went through the entire process. He then successfully completed law school and became an attorney.
posted by drstein at 4:13 PM on January 17, 2007

b1tr0t writes "What job that requires a college degree would accept someone with a prison record?"

How would a college degree hurt your chances of employment if you have a prison record?
posted by mullingitover at 4:15 PM on January 17, 2007

Although somewhat incidental, this post on education reminded of this article about government subsidy of education, and this article about the subsidizing of private prisons. In short, subsidies suck (as expected considering the sources). More to the point:

"During Monday’s course, Richards guest lectured and continuously made parallels between college and prison. He also said the inmates are easier to teach than regular college students because they come to class on time, never leave early and do the reading.

The inmates are attentive during the course and ask questions during their break and after class, Gates said."
posted by synechist at 4:22 PM on January 17, 2007

1. Of the $5.3 billion awarded in Pell grants in 1993, about $34 million were awarded to inmates. This represents less than 1/10 of one percent (1%) of the total grant awards.

2. The annual Pell grant awarded per inmate was less than $1,300.

3. In 1997, The Correctional Education Association conducted “The Three State Recidivism Study” for the United States Department of Education. Over 3600 persons, released more than three years earlier, were involved in a longitudinal study in Maryland, Minnesota and Ohio. Using education participation as the major variable, the study shows that “simply attending school behind bars reduces the likelihood of reincarceration by 29%. Translated into savings, every dollar spent on education returned more than two dollars to the citizens in reduced prison costs.”

But this post is really about the Bard Prison Initiative. Check out the 'just gives it away' link; it's about the first graduation ceremony. Makes me a little weepy, frankly.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:22 PM on January 17, 2007

Didn't I read somewhere once that college courses are the one thing that substantially reduces recidivism? If so, college for prisoners is just a sensible investment. Good on Bard for doing this.
posted by LarryC at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2007

You know those prisoners only traded their grants for cigarettes anyway.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:35 PM on January 17, 2007

This is just accounting: your taxes could be lowered if we spent the money on buying books instead of building cells. Teachers come cheaper than prison guards; that means more Pell Grants for everybody.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2007

Falconetti I do not believe that prison should be for rehabilitation

There's some reason you want ciminals to continue to be criminals? Did we get an oversupply of productive members of society without noticing?

How does stopping criminals from bettering themselves a positive for anyone?

Same way prison not being rehabilitative would be a positive, I guess; bettering oneself and rehabilitation are practically the same thing.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:43 PM on January 17, 2007

b1tr0t writes "Sure, but that's $34 million that could have been used to fund the college education of those in need who aren't criminals."

anotherpanacea writes "Translated into savings, every dollar spent on education returned more than two dollars to the citizens in reduced prison costs.”

Step 1. Reinvest the money saved from reduced recidivism in Pell grants for non-criminals. Or, reinvest in more Pell grants for prisoners, further reducing recidivism and making even more money available for non-prisoner students.

It's so wacky how we in the USA are hell-bent on punishing prisoners. Are we sending people to prison to punish them, or are we sending them to prison to protect innocent people from dangerous criminals? In either case, aren't we all better off with prisoners who are significantly less likely to re-offend? How is it a bad idea for prisons to be scholarly environments?
posted by mullingitover at 4:49 PM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would think that a country with the world's highest incarceration rate would actually want to look at alternatives to the status quo of just locking everybody up, but whatever, it's your country, not mine.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2007

Sooner or later, states and the federal government are going to be forced to look into alternatives and ways to reduce recidivism, simply because the current incarceration rates and costs cannot be sustained.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 PM on January 17, 2007

There's a bunch of reasons for it. Here are some. (1) Immensely strong individualist philosophical bias. On the free will vs determinism spectrum, the US is further up the "free will" end than any other society on the planet. Americans believe more in social class mobility and in flexibility of individual circumstance than anyone else. American political and sales rhetoric reflects and reinforces this: "protect your family", "you can ...", "how would you like", "if you don't vote for ...". The pattern of appealing to Americans in order to use them and extract gain from them runs like this: atomise the crowd, fracture commonalities, marginalize dissent, appeal to them to individually (and secretly) make decisions without common consultation. One of the most overused cliches of American entertainment is the motif of the hero protecting, or avenging, harm done to his personal family, which it is his responsibility to do, and nobody elses'. This plot element is thrown in as a matter of course, even where it's totally unnecessary.

(2) Mass extraction of private profit from collective social enterprise: the prison industry. Nations where the idea of a "privately owned prison" is as intolerable as a "privately owned police force" or "privately owned courts of justice" do not have an economic incentive to imprison people; further, they do not have an economic incentive to extract greater profit by providing cheaper food and accommodation to their prisoners; further, they do not have an economic incentive to demonize the prisoners so as to justify poor conditions.

(3) Inadequate social safety nets: if it's steal or starve, people steal. If people resist being stolen from, thieves use violence.

(4) Strong religious beliefs with strong punishment elements in their mythoi: Hell. Most Americans really, seriously, do believe in Hell; the ultimate horrible prison.

(5) Common to all humanity is an unpleasant tendency, when suffering, to lack time for empathy, and also to make others suffer. American life contains a great deal of personal suffering - long work hours, positional insecurity (you could be easily fired from your job, easily divorced from your spouse, your home could easily lose its financial value leaving you with a large mortgage on a now-cheap house). Americans are highly stressed, and want quick, cruel solutions to any further source of stress that arises. Judge Judy is a good example of that: her opinions are formed instantly, intensely unsympathetic, fast, and always harsh.

(6) Political inertia - a lot of politicians align themselves with prison owners, with vengeful religions, indulge the lack of empathy of the stressed, etc. There are votes in hate, votes in fear, votes in focusing on enemies, votes in singling out enemies to focus on.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:22 PM on January 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

Great post, aeschenkarnos!

Though I haven't looked at this research closely myself, if it is true that as the review says, self-selection (motivated people choosing to participate in education) has been adequately controlled for, then education is better than prison drug treatment in terms of crime reduction.

Education is better than teen drug treatment (a college degree is linked with reduced odds of lifelong addiction and reduced odds of relapse amongst those who do become addicted, though it is not associated with less use of drugs including alcohol; results from most teen drug treatment are modest at best), so this isn't surprising.

Self-selection accounts for virtually all of the "success" of faith-based prison rehab programs and a lot of the "results" associated with most other prison addiction treatment.
posted by Maias at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2007

As it is, money should probably be allocated to the prison system for prisoner education without touching the Pell Grant budget

Good grief, what a sophist you are. You don't actually think the money should be taken away, you just object to the kitty from which it comes?

In effect, what you're saying is that X dollars should be earmarked for prisoners, where there was no previous earmark at all. In reality, the program would end up being administered by the same office (FAFSA in, and it's just a different checkbox on the same form.

Or, we could spend more money administering it separately, with different forms, a separate office, and separate, expensive oversight for a program which is a tiny fraction of the overall student loan monies.

It's like you don't want the money for good people dirtied by the hands of bad people.
posted by dhartung at 6:03 PM on January 17, 2007

we've been pouring a lot of money into Faith-based prison programs tho--participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned.

We should totally be funding real education programs for prisoners. For everyone.
posted by amberglow at 6:20 PM on January 17, 2007

If someone has a chance, however remote, of being granted parole (and this includes even people like Charles Manson, who on paper has such a chance), then the absolute focus of their incarceration must be rehabilitation. Prison is a punishment, not a (apologies) life sentence (unless, of course, it is, but you know what I mean).

And what do all of us remember from being kids? The most meaningful punishments were those which made us learn. Being sent to your room, big deal. Being sent to your room and told that you had to come back downstairs in two hours and tell your parents exactly what you did that was wrong, and why it was wrong--now that is a compelling situation.

University-level education for inmates is similar, given the differences of being an adult. That level of education, in general, generates an awareness and understanding of society as a whole, as something worth preserving. I would quite strenuously argue that a liberal education would show most criminals why what they did was wrong, and inculcate the proper (read: socially defined) attitude of "Oh. I didn't realize that was the effect I was having. Now that I do know, I'm actually sorry." In the way a kid having to say that "Hitting my little brother/sister was wrong because s/he doesn't like it and it hurts", a liberal education teaches the same lesson, on a larger scale.

Sure, that 1/10% could have gone to non-criminal students. But I would ask you this: as important as it is to give people the opportunities to excel, is it perhaps not more important to nip criminal behaviour in the bud, or as close to the bud as possible?

And more to the point, the more that education is shown to be a valid and useful exercise, doesn't that help to prevent future crime?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:46 PM on January 17, 2007

Didn't I read somewhere once that college courses are the one thing that substantially reduces recidivism? If so, college for prisoners is just a sensible investment.

Not if you build prisons!
posted by papakwanz at 7:15 PM on January 17, 2007

There's some reason you want ciminals to continue to be criminals? Did we get an oversupply of productive members of society without noticing?

I think prison, as a practical matter, is primarily useful only for deterrence and personal incapacitation. That being said, I think that any prisoner who takes the initiative to rehabilitate should be supported, primarily through educational means (since studies point to that being the best factor to actually accomplish rehabilitation). Rehabilitation sounds like a good idea, but how do you force people to be rehabilitated? It leads to all sorts of abuses and ends up working to an opposite end. You cannot make someone be good, only encourage those who want to be good. It is a moot point anyway, rehabilitation hasn't been a real goal of incarceration in America since the Quakers tried it in the 1880s. If someone could demonstrate that certain procedures or programs actually resulted in rehabilitation, then I would be for it, I just don't think it actually works.

The background of all this should be a massive decriminalization of drug laws so that much fewer people are actually in prison and the issue has less immediacy. Coupled with meaningful independent oversight of prisons, this would both lessen the financial burden and mitigate the unnecessary horrors and abuses of the prison system.

I think the Bard Prison Initiative is a great idea for the most part. If rehabilitation was to be imposed on the prison class, then that would be the best way to go about it (the substantive work of Bard, not necessarily the source of funding).
posted by Falconetti at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2007

has anyone seriously called for forcing this on everyone? I can see forcing GED or some kind of vocational courses on everyone, but college?
posted by amberglow at 8:33 PM on January 17, 2007

If you are referring to my point, amberglow, I was responding to the idea of rehabilitation being a primary goal of incarceration. Basically, that whatever form you imagine rehabilitation taking, it is almost sure to fail unless the prisoner actually wants to be rehabilitated. If rehabilitation is the first priority of prison, that means everyone, no matter their feelings, must be rehabilitated, which results in the sort of "rehabilitation" one finds in Soviet gulags or Chinese logai. And frankly, most of the "criminals" in prison are there for drug offenses and don't need to be rehabilitated since they didn't do anything they should be morally culpable for in the first place.
posted by Falconetti at 8:54 PM on January 17, 2007

I don't know--i think that we need to do something to make it so that when they come out they know more (about something that can possibly improve their lives, whether it's a trade or regular education) than when they come in. I'm thinking beyond just drug-related prisoners. Many haven't finished their educations; many could actually use more education.
posted by amberglow at 8:58 PM on January 17, 2007

i guess a menu of options, but you have to do at least one each year or something? (it's something to do, if nothing else)
posted by amberglow at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2007

Anything that could expand their horizons is a plus, i think. Our prison system right now is garbage.
posted by amberglow at 9:01 PM on January 17, 2007

I don't see what the big deal is with rehabilitation. It's one of those things people are always going on about but nobody ever really thinks about. The US' enormous prisoner population does deliver substantial social, political and economic benefits. And a focus on rehabilitation would surely prove to be disastrously expensive. The absolute last thing we want is the state getting into the business of helping people who don't deserve it. That's called socialism. We don't want the US to end up like France do we?

No, I don't want the money for good people given to bad people.

And this is of course what I'm talking about. This sort of simplistic moralizing delivers massive dividends. Prisoners are assumed all to be bad people without hesitation. It doesn't matter what their individual circumstances might be, it doesn't matter that they're already repaying their debt to society, and it certainly doesn't matter that the net effect could be positive for the country as a whole. They're bad people. Full stop. I agree with this sort of thinking and think the government should not only not attempt to educate inmates but also cease providing all social services to these bad people completely. If we're going to have a permanent underclass then we ought to make sure it's a real underclass.
posted by nixerman at 9:10 PM on January 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

If the Pell Grants were fully funded, this discussion wouldn't be happening. As it is, the Pell Grants are underfunded. Given the state of funding, prisoners should be the last to get any money.

Oh... now I see the problem. Yes, Pells have been underfunded... since the Republicans retook the House in 1994. The decision to defund prisoners was part of an all-over effort to defund education, a part of the 'drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub' approach. The problem with this, of course, is that these sorts of cuts always come back to haunt us: we end up spending twice as much on prisons as we would have on education. To pretend that the money isn't there, or that we're being thrifty by not properly funding Pell, is ridiculous. What this really does is shift the expenditure from the federal government to the states, and from education to corrections.

Federal Prison Population: 193,616
Total Prison Population for all States: @ 2,000,000

As a federal program, most of the financial benefits saved by Pell were realized by the States, who stand to benefit the most by further reductions in prisoner populations... but this is a place where the Federal government can accomplish a truly righteous economy of scale, and it should.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:41 PM on January 17, 2007

College? It sounds from the article like students are trying to help prisoners study for the GEDs, equivalent to a highschool diploma. Personally, I think this should be mandatory for prisoners, since it is very hard to get a job anywhere without a basic highschool education. Most corporations have rules in place that prevent them from hiring anyone without a high school education.

Anway, what's with all the hate against prisoners. They've done they're time, certainly they should be allowed to get a job and try to be productive members of society again.
posted by xammerboy at 7:18 AM on January 18, 2007

What wasn't clear was whether the students are getting a college degree --- associate's or bachelor's.
posted by jayder at 5:22 PM on January 18, 2007

I think we're moving toward to wholly private prison system anyway--which means even less rehab of any kind (and less oversight, but still our money)--it's not profitable to have people stop being repeat visitors, i don't think.
posted by amberglow at 8:52 PM on January 18, 2007

xammerboy, jayder: BPI gives out associate's and bachelor's.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:20 AM on January 19, 2007

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