One of the biggest challenges we face as a state and as a nation is how do we keep paroled prisoners from becoming repeat offenders and winding up back behind bars?
Solid evidence points to postsecondary education as one of the major keys to helping former inmates build productive lives after parole.
After many years without any funding for prisoners to be able to access higher education, the Michigan Department of Corrections has gotten a one million dollar grant to launch postsecondary educational programs and vocational training to a small number of inmates who are near parole.
The program model is based on the Pathways from Prison Postsecondary Education Program created by the Vera Institute of Justice. It's a non-profit center for justice policy and practice based in New York.
Fred Patrick, the program director, joined us in the studio along with a former inmate at the Ionia Correctional Facility named Rick. Rick was sent to prison in 1984 at age 23 and served a nine and a half year sentence on a felony charge. It was thanks to classes he took while in prison, classes offered through Macomb Community College, that helped Rick find work and build a life for himself after his release.
"I saw myself as being able to be self-supportive. I didn't have to rely on somebody else, I didn't have to rely on a handout," Rick said of how the program changed him. "I most-definitely didn't want to go on some kind of state assistance where I collected a check every two weeks. I wanted to stand on my own two feet, work with my own two hands, and know I was contributing back to society."
The program has received quite a bit of criticism from people who say that is it unfair for criminals to receive this kind of education at a time when education is so expensive, but Fred Patrick disagrees.
"The reality is that you have millions of people incarcerated, we spend billions upon billions of dollars in prison costs, we have evidence that suggests that exposure to postsecondary education in prison leads to a huge reduction recidivism, and that ultimately benefits the public," he argued. "It also allows individuals to come home and be what we want everyone to be, which is a tax-paying, contributing member of society."
Ultimately, the program is an investment in public safety. If prisoners are able to get this type of education, they are more likely to find jobs after release and, therefore, less likely to become a repeat offender.
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