WHICH EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS ARE AVAILABLE TO PRISONERS?
Educational opportunities vary widely from prison to prison.
Many states contract with local schools/colleges to provide a variety of academic courses, life skills education, and career and technology education for prisoners in certain prison units. Inmates are selected for participation based on their academic skills, disciplinary record, level of custody, length of sentence, and program availability.
Most prisons offer basic literacy programs for prisoners functioning below the sixth-grade level and GED classes for those wanting to complete high school. For those who have completed high school, post-secondary educational opportunities may be available through contracts with community colleges and universities. If accepted into a college-level program, it is possible for a prisoner to earn an associate degree and perhaps even go on to obtain a Baccalaureate degree. However, some prisoners prefer to earn a vocational certificate.
A few prisoners get permission to take for-credit correspondence courses offered by colleges or universities, although they have to pay tuition and keep up with class assignments they receive by mail. Some prisoners may also receive permission to take free or low-cost Bible correspondence courses offered by churches and other religious organizations.
Many prisons offer life skills programs, which are non-credit courses designed to help prisoners learn to manage anger, overcome criminal thinking, set and achieve goals, become more responsible, develop healthy relationships, and avoid substance abuse. Prisoners are also strongly encouraged to participate in 12-step programs such as Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. Community volunteers often lead these classes.
WHO ARE THE STUDENTS?
Not all prisoners have these educational opportunities. Participation in college-level classes and/or vocational programs is based on the inmate receiving approval from prison administration, passing entrance exams, and having money to pay all or part of the tuition. Some prisoners qualify for partial scholarships and others are required to pay full tuition.
Prisoners basically make a choice whether or not they want to use their time in prison to better themselves. If they truly want to change their lives, prison education programs and religious programming are very helpful. Prison ministry volunteers typically have more contact with inmates who are trying to better themselves. These are the ones who typically sign up for faith-based programs.