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Jamie Littlefield

Should Prison Inmates be Allowed to Take Online Classes?

By May 13, 2011

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A new study from the Institute for Higher Education Policy shows that prison inmates have extremely limited access to online classes. Online learning can be a cost effective way for correctional facilities to educate students and reduce recidivism rates (according to the study 7 out of 10 prisoners that don't have access to education are likely to return to prison within 3 years of release). However, researchers found that only 2 of the 43 states they studied offered some form of online education.

Authors of the study provided these three suggestions for prisoner education:

  • "To address capacity challenges that limit access to postsecondary education in prisons, federal and state statutes and regulations should be revised to support the development and expansion of Internet-based delivery of such education.
  • To increase educational attainment, support economic development, and make efficient use of limited public funding, postsecondary correctional education programs should be closely aligned with state postsecondary education systems and local workforce needs.
  • To support increased access to postsecondary education in prisons, federal and state statutes should be amended to make specific categories of incarcerated persons eligible for need-based financial aid."

Access to online education in prison does pose some unique challenges. Internet access, for example, must be closely monitored in many cases. However, online learning can give inmates the opportunity to educate themselves while they don't have access to traditional schools. Although critics contend that inmates should not be given the privilege of financial aid for online learning, the government ends up paying much more when uneducated prisoners return to lock up again and again.

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May 16, 2011 at 9:25 am
(1) Dermot says:

Without having any real connections to correctional services it does seem to me that if inmates can improve their education it offers the possibility of personal development and different choices in life to the ones that led them to crime in the first place. Of course it depends on the individual in every case someone leaving prison better educated than when they went in would have a higher probability of remaining law abiding if that is what they choose to do.

May 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm
(2) DM says:

I believe education of individuals wanting to improve themselves is alot cheaper than incarceration.

May 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm
(3) Larry Baruch says:

Although the above article reports on the American anti-recidivist pro-education campaign, I can offer a comment from a UK point of view. Whilst serving a seven year sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, I began my Open University studies. I successfully passed Technology 101, Sociology 101 and recently, Upper Intermediate French L211 – I’m now half-way to my BA degree. The greatest benefit, that many independent studies fail to appreciate, is the self-esteem these courses impart to the student. Leaving prison, as an institutionalised ex-con, your return to the same institution is guaranteed but with a little self-confidence, self-esteem and self-accomplishment, you are able to look towards a ‘normal’ life. The OU, dragged me out of the rut and I’m now a successful teacher/trainer myself and have never been more content with my life. Prison, to me now, was an experience in human-nature, I could’ve done without but from which I’ve gained immeasurable benefit, as a part of my ‘colourful’ past but my ‘brighter’ future has more appeal. Education in prison may not work for every inmate but, from personal experience, I can assure you, in the majority of cases, the benefits to society more than outweigh the small cost of supplying the education.

May 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm
(4) Jo says:

I agree with online learning…I do, though think that education of the incarcerated should suit the person’s abilities and be sure to enhance their personal self and gifts to society rather than give them more education in the wrong path that might lead them to misuse the wrong education according to their mental and physical abilities and outlook for what reasons they choose their education…..people are always in the path of going in the wrong without guidance and spiritual growth as well…From knowing certain people who have been in prison their education was geared to a profession that wouldn’t allow felons since it was financial…they also had criminal bright mentality and could do things like identity theft and immediately tried to get a position in accounting until the felony was discovered…the felony wasn’t in money but in violence of which ran in this person’s family…all in all – even a bright mind can go toward doing bright bad things…given the wrong education…So yes, I love education for everyone – but our education should include personal growth and development in mental and social ways that don’t include coming out and bullying on the job or using prison type of environment social structure of which I’ve seen as well…I had the unpleasant experience of having to work around a woman who had been in prison who had a tough street type of mentality and brought the harsh prison environment on the job to try to bully and harrass others and lie about them causing strife and problems….Prisons should attempt to eliminate thisl type of social structure that exists in prisons and make sure that anyone who is on the job after prison isn’t being deceptive to the bosses and being bad to other employees when no one is looking….this starts in school and goes beyond and into the street drug culture …Less chance of bullying others is ONE of the GOOD reasons to let inmates learn online -

May 20, 2011 at 2:17 am
(5) Karen Simons says:

Of course, prisioners should have access to online learning. It is morally imperative that everyone in prison who wants to learn have access to school. In today’s world, programs that would limit access to all other sites cannot be that difficult to write.

Have recently watched the TV special, “Beyond Scared Straight” regarding program where teens whose behavior has them on fact track to prison, are taken to prison to experience what it is really like…and talk to some who are in for their entire lives. Well worth watching.

Even if some prisioners have no chance of getting out, learning, reading, writing, etc. could still be valuable in reducing stress, and getting prisoners involved in programs like the above-mentioned program.

The cost couldn’t be all that significant in light of what lots of security officers cost the state!

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