Carlos Rosado, an inmate who servedmore than 12 years in Woodbourne Detention Center for armed robbery and assaultwas able to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bard College while inprison. Not only that, he established one of the only gardens in the prison,resulting in garden-fresh vegetables for the prisoners.
Years later, Rosado isnow a recycling engineer earning an honest living to feed and support hisfamily. All because he was able to receive a free college education in prison (Friedman1). Which raises the question, shouldprisoners who are not serving lifetime sentences get a free college educationwhile incarcerated? Many people may be against this because there are thoselaw-abiding citizens who have done nothing wrong and are left with a massivestudent loan debt. In the long run though, giving prisoners free educationwould greatly benefit society.
Giving inmates a college education has itsbenefits to it and in doing so would help our economy for the better, peoplewould be getting second chances to obtain a job after serving their time, andlastly the chances of those people going back to prison would decrease greatly. College education became lessaccessible to convicted felons during the 1994 Crime Bill which stated thatthose convicted would not be allowed to apply nor receive Pell grants. Pellgrants are grants that are given to those students who qualify, typicallystudents who are low income. Pell grants range from $2-5,000, all depending onyearly income. Due to this new bill, prisons no longer had the money to educateprisoners and little by little programs started to die off, leaving only a fewprograms in the United States. The United States has the highest incarcerationrate in the world and studies show that, “…almost half a million people are lockedup because of a drug offense” (Wagner and Rabuy). So, half of the people in jail getarrested for a nonviolent crime and automatically the chances for them to beeducated 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 therequirements of their probation, rather than for a new offense” (Wagner andRabuy).
The government is imprisoning a whole generation, who happen tobe 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 communicateto them that there are better opportunities than doing or selling drugs. Thesepeople decided to go down the wrong path, but why shouldn’t they be given thechance 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, “Educationalprograms cost about $1,400 to $1,744 per inmate each year, …, and can saveprisons between $8,700 and $9,700 per inmate, the costs associated withincarcerating them again.” Taking this into account, although college programsare not as expensive as a Bachelor’s degree, the economy would still benefit. Housingjust one inmate is approximately $60,000 a year and since getting a bachelor’sdegree does reduce the return of inmates, the jail and taxpayers save moneyover time. A study shows that, “thatevery $1 invested in prison-based education yields $4 to $5 taxpayer savings inreduced incarceration costs” (Patrick).
Bringing in $4 to $5 for every $1invested is huge when multiplied by the billions of people who pay taxes in theUnited States. The United States is in debt like it has been for the past threehundred years and one way to combat that and to save this nation is byinvesting in free college education for prisoners. The U.
S. treasury would begetting back $4 to $5, and it would be money that they were not even countingon getting back. Furthermore, inmates who receivecollege education are less likely to return to prison. A statistic shows that after getting out ofprison, 70-85% of prisoners return to jail within just a couple of years due toa “lack of education” and a “lack of skills” (pisoneducation.
com). Many peopleargue that prisoners should get a vocational education, but in today’s societythat will not really get them anywhere. They are not likely to be hired becausethey are lacking the education to qualify for the job.
In getting a bachelor’sdegree the prisoners would not only receive the education aspect of it, butthey will also acquire the skills as time goes on. That same study states that30% of prisoners who receive “vocational training” will return to prison asopposed to those who get a bachelor’s degree (Prisoneducation.com). Not tomention, that inmates who receive a master’s degree have a 0% chance ofretuning to jail (Prisoneducation.com). Most jobs today require some collegeeducation, but currently only “6% of prisoners are enrolled in college courses”(Patrick).
Above all, the lack of selfconfidence in prisoners is jaw dropping. Just by giving them a chance to bebetter people and giving them awareness that they can do something differentwith their lives other than criminal activities to make money, can give them alife that they can be proud of. They arepeople who have made mistakes and are paying the price for it.
Inmates choosewhether they want to further their education or not, so those earning a degreeis because they want to be, which shows that the government will not bespending money on those who could care less about school. Miguel Munoz-Laboy, aprofessor at Columbia University who also teaches at Woodbourne was interviewedby PBS and says, “It’s incredible, I’ve never had a student who readseverything, every page that I assign, and they do. For example, we had a numberof classes where the students would say, ‘the footnote on page 43 says this’, Inever read that foot note. So, there is so many stories like that where yousimply 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 havepromising futures, people just have to believe in them. Critics often claim that hardworkingcitizens who have not violated the law do not get free college education so whyshould prisoners get it for free? It is a valid question, and although thereare a lot of people who do get most college for free because of Cal grants andPell grants, there are still those who do not qualify. Those who do not qualifycan 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 millionsof dollars are lost in scholarships due to people not applying to them becausethey 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 fromSallie Mae, …, roughly $100 million in scholarship funds go unclaimed everyyear.”Everyoneshould have the right to an education, especially prisoners who spend amajority 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 livesaround because they decided to further their education. For example, inmateAnthony Cardenales says education, “ledto his internal transformation.
” (Lagemann) With these points given, givingcollege education to prisoners would overall be beneficial to the UnitedStates. The U.S. would profit from the money being saved from not sendingprisoners back to prison and it would give prisoners a sense of purpose withtheir lives.
In order for them to be successful outside of prison, they needthat support to show them that they can do it. Prisoners are people just likethe rest of us, they are sons and daughters, moms and dads, if they want thechance to turn their lives around, why not give them the opportunity to. Aftergetting out, they will most likely return back to their hometown eager to helpout those who are in similar positions as they were. They will want to make adifference with their new-found success. There is a stigma that all prisonersare evil and deserve no remorse but it’s time to believe in others capability ofwanting change and trust that they can do it.