Have you ever heard complaints that prisoners receive free education while incarcerated? I’ve met quite a few people in my life who thought prisoners could get a college degree for free while in prison, and then they said “law abiding citizens” had to take out loans if they wanted to further their education.
Honestly, before I was in prison, I thought education at all levels was free for prisoners. When I was sentenced to 15 years for possession and cultivation of marijuana, I started figuring out the minimum time I would have to serve before being eligible for parole.
As it turned out, I had to do it for four years before I could be released. Since I already have a bachelor’s degree, I figured I’d spend time in prison doing a law degree so I could take the bar exam when I got out. Might as well make my time in jail as productive as possible, right?
Well, when I went to jail, I was shocked to find that my plan was impossible. Which leads me to the topic of my blog today: Can you get a degree in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Can you get a degree in prison?
- What educational opportunities are available in prisons?
- The value of prison education
Can you get a degree in prison?
When it comes to undergraduate degrees, the answer is yes. Degree programs are available to both federal and state prison inmates, but it’s more difficult than it sounds. First, you must find a college that has a program that provides services to inmates through regular mail correspondence.
Twenty years ago, before schools started moving these courses online, it was easier to find correspondence courses by regular mail. Since prisoners do not have access to the Internet, online classes are not an option. In my opinion, this is a major missed opportunity. I understand why prisoners are not allowed internet access for most things. However, Internet access in a supervised classroom setting should be considered when it comes to education.
Some state prisons partner with local colleges or universities to offer inmates degree programs, while others force inmates to find college courses on their own, which isn’t easy. Think about it: How are you going to get information about a university degree program if you don’t have access to the internet, phone calls, and very limited opportunities to talk to people outside prison?
If the prison you’re being held in doesn’t cooperate with a local school, then you’ll have to write to a friend or family member for help finding classes. Even if you’ve found a degree program that interests you and is accessible via regular mail correspondence, there’s another problem: money.
All college degree programs offered to prisoners must be paid for by the prisoner or his or her family, and there are no discounts or access to grants or student loans. I don’t know how many inmates get thousands of dollars to pay for college, but there are some, and it does happen.
As for graduate degree programs – like my dream of going to law school in prison – that’s never going to happen. There are so few prison inmates with undergraduate degrees that graduate degree programs are not even on the radar of prison administrations.
I’ve had absolutely no luck finding a law school for prison inmates. Even if I could find one, I couldn’t afford it because I never made more than $50 a month while I was incarcerated.
What educational opportunities are available in prisons?
Because a large proportion of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma or GED, both federal and state prisons have focused on this level of education over the past few decades.
Many states now require prisoners without a diploma to attend school while incarcerated, rather than work at the prison. These programs are subsidized by the federal and state governments, which is why they are free to any registered prisoner.
Other free education options in prison include a number of vocational courses that help inmates gain skills they can use to find work after release. There are many different career programs in prisons, but it depends on which facility the prisoner is housed in. Some of the career options where I was incarcerated were cosmetology, construction trades and gardening.
Inmates can also take classes that help them with parenting skills, financial planning, résumé building and mental health.
The value of prison education
The value of prisoners’ education in prison cannot be underestimated. Prison education has been proven to reduce recidivism and increase economic opportunities for inmates and ex-prisoners transitioning to civilian life.
Unfortunately, access to education in prisons is very limited, especially for prisoners with college degrees. Once prisoners are released, it is difficult for them to continue their education due to limited access to student financial aid.
While inmates have many limitations and obstacles, those who find ways to get an education and earn a diploma or degree can greatly improve their future prospects.
Should inmates be forced to go to school in prison if they don’t have a high school diploma or GED? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Programs Let Inmates Earn University Degree While In Prison Prison Education: A Guide to College Degrees for Inmates and Ex-Offenders