Carlos better opportunities than doing or selling drugs. These

            Carlos Rosado, an inmate who served
more than 12 years in Woodbourne Detention Center for armed robbery and assault
was able to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bard College while in
prison. Not only that, he established one of the only gardens in the prison,
resulting in garden-fresh vegetables for the prisoners. Years later, Rosado is
now a recycling engineer earning an honest living to feed and support his
family. All because he was able to receive a free college education in prison (Friedman
1).

            Which raises the question, should
prisoners who are not serving lifetime sentences get a free college education
while incarcerated? Many people may be against this because there are those
law-abiding citizens who have done nothing wrong and are left with a massive
student loan debt. In the long run though, giving prisoners free education
would greatly benefit society. Giving inmates a college education has its
benefits to it and in doing so would help our economy for the better, people
would be getting second chances to obtain a job after serving their time, and
lastly the chances of those people going back to prison would decrease greatly.

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            College education became less
accessible to convicted felons during the 1994 Crime Bill which stated that
those convicted would not be allowed to apply nor receive Pell grants. Pell
grants are grants that are given to those students who qualify, typically
students who are low income. Pell grants range from $2-5,000, all depending on
yearly income. Due to this new bill, prisons no longer had the money to educate
prisoners and little by little programs started to die off, leaving only a few
programs in the United States. The United States has the highest incarceration
rate in the world and studies show that, “…almost half a million people are locked
up because of a drug offense” (Wagner and Rabuy). So, half of the people in jail get
arrested for a nonviolent crime and automatically the chances for them to be
educated goes down the drain. Not only that, but the study also shows that,
“there are almost 7,000 youth behind bars for ‘technical violations’ of the
requirements of their probation, rather than for a new offense” (Wagner and
Rabuy).  The government is imprisoning a whole generation, who happen to
be born in the wrong neighborhood where the main activity is selling drugs.
Some kids do not have a role model to teach them right from wrong or communicate
to them that there are better opportunities than doing or selling drugs. These
people decided to go down the wrong path, but why shouldn’t they be given the
chance for redemption, a chance to start over?

            Additionally,
educating convicts would significantly impact the economy in a positive manner.
Stated in an article written by Allie Bidwell, she states that, “Educational
programs cost about $1,400 to $1,744 per inmate each year, …, and can save
prisons between $8,700 and $9,700 per inmate, the costs associated with
incarcerating them again.” Taking this into account, although college programs
are not as expensive as a Bachelor’s degree, the economy would still benefit. Housing
just one inmate is approximately $60,000 a year and since getting a bachelor’s
degree does reduce the return of inmates, the jail and taxpayers save money
over time. A study shows that, “that
every $1 invested in prison-based education yields $4 to $5 taxpayer savings in
reduced incarceration costs” (Patrick). Bringing in $4 to $5 for every $1
invested is huge when multiplied by the billions of people who pay taxes in the
United States. The United States is in debt like it has been for the past three
hundred years and one way to combat that and to save this nation is by
investing in free college education for prisoners. The U.S. treasury would be
getting back $4 to $5, and it would be money that they were not even counting
on getting back.

            Furthermore, inmates who receive
college education are less likely to return to prison.  A statistic shows that after getting out of
prison, 70-85% of prisoners return to jail within just a couple of years due to
a “lack of education” and a “lack of skills” (pisoneducation.com). Many people
argue that prisoners should get a vocational education, but in today’s society
that will not really get them anywhere. They are not likely to be hired because
they are lacking the education to qualify for the job. In getting a bachelor’s
degree the prisoners would not only receive the education aspect of it, but
they will also acquire the skills as time goes on. That same study states that
30% of prisoners who receive “vocational training” will return to prison as
opposed to those who get a bachelor’s degree (Prisoneducation.com). Not to
mention, that inmates who receive a master’s degree have a 0% chance of
retuning to jail (Prisoneducation.com). Most jobs today require some college
education, but currently only “6% of prisoners are enrolled in college courses”
(Patrick).

            Above all, the lack of self
confidence in prisoners is jaw dropping. Just by giving them a chance to be
better people and giving them awareness that they can do something different
with their lives other than criminal activities to make money, can give them a
life that they can be proud of.  They are
people who have made mistakes and are paying the price for it. Inmates choose
whether they want to further their education or not, so those earning a degree
is because they want to be, which shows that the government will not be
spending money on those who could care less about school. Miguel Munoz-Laboy, a
professor at Columbia University who also teaches at Woodbourne was interviewed
by PBS and says, “It’s incredible, I’ve never had a student who reads
everything, every page that I assign, and they do. For example, we had a number
of classes where the students would say, ‘the footnote on page 43 says this’, I
never read that foot note. So, there is so many stories like that where you
simply don’t know the answer because they push you to become a better teacher”
(PBSNewsHour). To read stories like that is to prove that prisoners do have
promising futures, people just have to believe in them.

            Critics often claim that hardworking
citizens who have not violated the law do not get free college education so why
should prisoners get it for free? It is a valid question, and although there
are a lot of people who do get most college for free because of Cal grants and
Pell grants, there are still those who do not qualify. Those who do not qualify
can apply to the thousands of scholarships that are available, not only that,
but there are a lot of student loan forgiveness programs. Studies show that millions
of dollars are lost in scholarships due to people not applying to them because
they are too scared they will not win or they are too lazy to write essays. Specifically,
Anne Fisher mentions in her article that, “according to the latest figures from
Sallie Mae, …, roughly $100 million in scholarship funds go unclaimed every
year.”

Everyone
should have the right to an education, especially prisoners who spend a
majority of their lives behind bars, isolated from the rest of the society.
There are many people like Carlos Rosado out there who have changed their lives
around because they decided to further their education. For example, inmate
Anthony Cardenales says education, “led
to his internal transformation.” (Lagemann)

            With these points given, giving
college education to prisoners would overall be beneficial to the United
States. The U.S. would profit from the money being saved from not sending
prisoners back to prison and it would give prisoners a sense of purpose with
their lives. In order for them to be successful outside of prison, they need
that support to show them that they can do it. Prisoners are people just like
the rest of us, they are sons and daughters, moms and dads, if they want the
chance to turn their lives around, why not give them the opportunity to. After
getting out, they will most likely return back to their hometown eager to help
out those who are in similar positions as they were. They will want to make a
difference with their new-found success. There is a stigma that all prisoners
are evil and deserve no remorse but it’s time to believe in others capability of
wanting change and trust that they can do it. 

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