US DOJ & US DOEd: $1 Million Now Available for Inmate Education

This post includes the grant announcement from U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as resources on education and the criminal justice system.

Nearly $1 Million Now Available to Support Partnerships Offering Education and Workforce Training for Incarcerated Individuals Exiting Prisons
November 19, 2012, Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs
Here for Full News Release

“The Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education announced today a new, nearly $1 million grant fund entitled, “Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities” (PRSCEO), that will invest in innovative programs preparing incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter society with the support of education and workforce training. Eligible applicants include adult education providers partnering to connect education in state correctional facilities with local communities.

PRSCEO provides an important opportunity for applicants to create new approaches and improvements for existing rehabilitation services.   Every year, more than 700,000 incarcerated individuals leave federal and state prisons. Yet, existing policies and programs too often fail to prepare released prisoners to reenter society, leading 4 of every 10 to commit new crimes or violate terms of their release within 3 years. Failure to support successful rehabilitation costs states more than $50 billion annually.

Based on a cooperative agreement, the one-time grant funding comes from a section of the Second Chance Act, administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component within the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice.

Suggested improvements include establishing an integrated reentry program that offers and incorporates education services, workforce training, and job search support into intake and prerelease processes and links education to employment services; targeting job support to labor market demands that do not have criminal history restrictions; using technology to increase program access and data to measure performance and outcomes; and conducting thorough program evaluations to further share lessons learned and best practices. …

Applications will be accepted until Dec. 26, 2012. The Department of Education anticipates awarding two to four grants ranging from $200,000 to $400,000. Awards will be made in January 2013.”

For Grant Details and Application: Click Here, and enter “PRSCEO” into the “Keyword Search”

More on Education and the Criminal Justice System:

Resources from the National Reentry Resource Center Here

Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State PrisonsInstitute for Higher Education Policy, May 2011

Here for Full Report

Leaders of government, labor, business, and philanthropy are calling on the nation to increase postsecondary attainment levels so the United States can once again become the world’s most educated country. Informed by this goal, postsecondary stakeholders are attempting to wring productivity gains out of institutions through innovations and reconfigured pathways into and through postsecondary education for today’s students. And yet a sizeable and growing number of potential students from demographic groups critical to increasing national attainment levels (e.g., low-income youth and adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and persons in need of worker retraining and basic skills acquisition) are being locked out of educational opportunity and overlooked in postsecondary access and success discussions. Who are these potential students? Incarcerated persons.

Key Findings
The data for this brief were gathered from a 19-item Web-based national survey of correctional education administrators (CEAs). Forty-three states responded, for an 86 percent response rate. Findings and discussion of the survey highlight student enrollments and completions, instructional methods, eligibility requirements, and funding sources of postsecondary education programs in state prison systems. Key findings include these:

  • Participating states reported approximately 71,000 persons enrolled in vocational or academic postsecondary education programs in prisons for academic year 2009–10; 6 percent of the incarcerated population in these states.
  • Thirteen high-enrollment states accounted for 86 percent of all incarcerated postsecondary students in the state prison systems included in this study.
  • Incarcerated students are not earning two- or four-year postsecondary degrees in significant numbers. Findings illustrate that three out of every four students were enrolled in a vocational or certificate program. Although all types of PSCE are valuable, survey results indicate that most incarcerated students are not on an educational pathway likely to result in academic degree attainment.
  • Postsecondary correctional education is delivered primarily through onsite instruction. Survey respondents reported logistical challenges associated with providing education in a prison and recommended technology as one way to improve the delivery of PSCE.
  • Security protocols and state statutes were identified as significant barriers to expanding the use of Internet technologies to support the delivery of postsecondary education in prisons.
  • A critical challenge facing CEAs is securing funding, a reality that may worsen in coming years because of the financial constraints of state budgets.
  • Incarcerated students continue to be denied access to federal and state-based financial aid programs.

Recommendation 1:
To address capacity challenges limiting access to postsecondary education, federal and state statutes and regulations should be revised to support development and
expansion of Internet-based delivery of postsecondary
education in prisons.

The results of IHEP’s survey indicate that access to postsecondary education in prison systems is dictated in large part by the ability of these systems to identify appropriate instructors for vocational and academic coursework; find classroom space where educational instruction can take place; and identify funding to support PSCE initiatives. In each area, program administrators face both logistical and financial challenges. On the logistical front, CEAs report challenges in identifying and recruiting instructors; this problem is particularly acute in rural areas, where local labor markets often cannot support instructor requirements. Respondents also report difficulties finding classroom space for educational activities. On the financial front, survey results suggest that limited state support for PSCE is artificially capping enrollment; numerous respondents suggest that PSCE enrollments are restricted in their prison systems because of a lack of state funds. Taken together, these access challenges reflect an overarching limit in the capacity of state prison systems to provide postsecondary educational opportunity to incarcerated persons. To address this capacity challenge, postsecondary education initiatives in prisons should emulate the general trends in postsecondary education and move educational content online to
Internet-based platforms.

Allowing Internet-based course delivery would address the three challenges outlined above. Internet-based instruction allows a single instructor to deliver educational content to an unlimited number of incarcerated students across multiple prisons or even prison systems. Additionally, Internet-based coursework allows more students to be educated in a reduced space at their own pace—computer labs can accommodate terminals that allow students to progress through individualized educational programs while sharing a physical space; something that is difficult to accommodate in traditional classroom settings. Finally, the economies of scale of Internet-based instructional methods would reduce the per-student cost of providing education, allowing state prison systems to make more efficient use of limited federal and
state financial support.

Moving toward Internet-based delivery of postsecondary education would require significant reforms in relevant statutes and regulations, as well as assurances that security concerns regarding Internet access in prisons could be adequately addressed. A useful first step toward designing and implementing such programs would be to establish a pilot program at the federal or state level. A pilot program could develop widely acceptable security protocols for Internet access that could serve as a model from which other prison systems could learn. Funding for a model Internetbased postsecondary correctional education program could be supplied through federal grant programs or philanthropic entities.

Recommendation 2:
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.

Survey results indicate that vocational and certificate programs permeate postsecondary education in state prison systems. What is unclear from our results is the extent to which these programs are aligned with state or local labor market needs. Programs that enable incarcerated persons to acquire vocational skills are valuable in and of themselves. But because gainful employment is one predictor of a decreased chance of recidivism (Gaes 2008), PSCE programs should ensure that the skills are appropriate for state and local labor markets. Learning vocational skills that are quickly made obsolete by technological advances or that are irrelevant to local employment opportunities is a waste of money by funders and effort by students. Where possible, state policymakers, postsecondary CEAs, and local business interests should align to develop relevant vocational training programs for state prison systems.

Beyond vocational education programs, state postsecondary education systems could support PSCE by ensuring that program and course offerings are covered in statewide transfer and articulation agreements. The overwhelming majority of PSCE participants do not receive degrees while they are in prison (in some cases, because of state law), so most PSCE participants leave prison with vocational or academic credits. Ensuring that these credits are readily transferable to public state institutions would send a strong signal of support for PSCE and mark the beginning of a constructive pathway back into traditional postsecondary education for formerly incarcerated people.

Recommendation 3:
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.

A glaring conclusion from the survey results and a review of relevant literature is that incarcerated persons are rarely eligible for need-based financial aid programs. At the federal level, policy withholds Pell Grant funding from incarcerated persons, and state need-based funds are not available on a large scale. The outcome of these policies is a two-tiered level of access to postsecondary education. Excluding age, test scores, length of sentence, and other eligibility requirements, prisoners with financial means or private support are more likely to be able to participate, while those from lower-income backgrounds have fewer educational opportunities.

This differing level of access is counter to postsecondary policy for the general public, where federal and state need-based aid programs have been successful in providing at least some educational opportunity to the most financially disadvantaged students if they meet educational criteria. Current PSCE policy has not afforded the same benefits to low-income incarcerated persons.

Although there may be legitimate concerns regarding expanding the population of prisoners eligible for need-based aid funds, federal and state prison systems employ numerous nonfinancial eligibility requirements that serve to limit the number of persons who qualify to enroll in PSCE. Additional eligibility requirements could be attached to need-based financial aid programs to control costs and ensure that the aid is reaching students who are most likely to successfully complete coursework or degree programs. For instance, eligibility could be limited to first-time offenders who meet certain time-to-release guidelines. Additionally, aid could be limited to persons who participate in academic coursework or vocational programs tied directly to post-release employment opportunities.

Moving forward, policymakers should explore the possibility of targeting a limited number of need-based financial aid awards to incarcerated persons who meet a predetermined set of criteria. Blanket bans on the provision of need-based aid to all prisoners represent a one-size-fits-all approach to policy that restricts access to education for some individuals who could benefit greatly from public support of their educational pursuits. Participation in postsecondary correctional education has been linked to a number of desirable post-release outcomes. Policymakers should find ways to leverage established need-based financial aid programs to induce these outcomes in an increasing number of people.


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