This letter is in response to the March 2, 2016 letter to the editor titled, “Criminals shouldn’t get a free ride.”
The most important point of clarity is that there is no free ride. Inmate students pay tuition and fees like any other student, and those who take advantage of the courses in correctional settings are among the most motivated students I have encountered.
Often, family members pay for the student’s education, though there are several privately-funded scholarships, which donors gave specifically for inmate education at Ellsworth Correctional Facility or Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility.
Many in the public have not been informed of the long-term benefits inmate education is proven to have on society. A vast majority (97 percent) of all inmates will be released. The traditional approach to the penal system creates a cycle where uneducated, unskilled criminals are jailed, released, and eventually arrested again.
More than 55 percent of incarcerated individuals lack a high school credential, and even more lack post-secondary education or training. Up to 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent end up incarcerated themselves, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Research has proven inmate education reduces recidivism and disrupts the cycle by giving individuals the opportunity and ability to serve as productive members of society. This impacts the inmates’ children and grandchildren. Breaking this cycle decreases prison populations, saves tax payers money, and makes our communities safer.
The federal grant Barton received, Improved Reentry Education (IRE), also do not pay for student tuition and fees. The money pays for program enhancements that would otherwise never be possible.
A relevant, modern education would not be possible without access to technology, which is obviously an obstacle to provide in correctional facilities. The grant provides the necessary access while mitigating risks. The funds move us toward the ultimate goal of fewer people in correctional facilities.
The grant, which is mandated to be spent on inmate education, has also created several jobs in the Barton County area. This means more wages here at home being spent in our local economy.
Nine of the 10 full-time inmate-education focused positions at Barton are paid for via state or federal grant money, not local tax dollars. That tenth position, which is also responsible for coordinating Barton’s online corrections degree program, is paid for by the revenue generated by inmate students.
Senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation Lois Davis reports in a July 2015 NPR.org article that every dollar invested in an offender education program saves taxpayers between $4 and $5 in reincarceration costs. Just to break even, she says, reincarceration risk has to be reduced by one to two percentage points. Education programs have proven to reduce recidivism by at least 13 percentage points.
For related articles and information regarding inmate education both local and nationwide, please visit bartonccc.edu/BreakTheCycle.
Dr. Carl Heilman, President, Barton Community College