By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy www.prisoneducationproject.org-

A National Network of Prison Education Programs

The 1980s were a period of expansion for prison education programs.  Through the vehicle of federal financial assistance, inmates were able to enroll in vocational and college courses in their prisons, programs offered through community colleges and state universities alike.  For a period, prisoners had a meaningful chance at learning a quality trade or even earning an associate’s or bachelor’s college degree during their term of imprisonment.  Over 350 in-prison college programs flourished, with professors teaching classes “live,” in the prisons.

The Collapse: Congress Slams the Door on Education in Prison

All of this came to a screeching halt with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  The Act, a component of the anti-prison education agenda pushed in Congress and the Senate, imposed a ban on inmates receiving any form of federal financial aid to assist them in the pursuit of an education.  With the slashed funding, nearly every externally supported prison education program in the nation shut down, and the result was an increase in prisoner unrest, violence, and recidivism.  Colleges, prisoners, and prison administrators alike objected, and loudly so, but their pleas fell upon deaf ears.

Advocates for eliminating Pell Grants and other need-based financial assistance for prisoners claimed that those incarcerated shouldn’t be given government funding to pursue education.  They advanced an agenda asserting that prisoners were taking funding away from traditional college students — a patently false assertion — and that offering college to inmates was a reward for crime.  Some even had the gall to suggest that people were committing crimes in order to go to prison, where they could obtain a college education.  It was a political firestorm like no other, and one based on emotion, not fact, logic, or empirical research.

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By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy prisoneducation.com

Enrolling in college from prison is no easy task.  There is the bureaucratic red tape to overcome, an endemic culture of failure, and prison staff members who are more interested in punching a clock than engaging in any form of actual work.  But fear not, with persistence, dedication, and a bit of planning, a college education obtained while in prison is possible.

This article presents the five essential steps to enrolling in college from prison.  By following these steps, any incarcerated students can learn their prison’s regulations concerning correspondence education, locate quality correspondence programs, obtain authorization to enroll in the courses, and order their first set of college courses.

Step One: Review Prison’s Applicable Policies and Regulations

The first step when engaging in any type of major project is to learn the rules, policies, and procedures surrounding it.  This is doubly so in prison, where regulations strictly dictate what is permitted within the confines of the correctional facility, and when breaking these rules and regulations can have very serious, life-altering consequences.

Unfortunately for inmates, there is no clear-cut way of learning what the policies and procedures are for enrolling in college from prison.  Generally speaking, a lack of information is the rule.  With this in mind, the inmate should go to their law library (if their correctional facility has one) and search for any regulations or program statements (sometimes called “policy statements”) on correspondence programs and college correspondence courses (sometimes called “post-secondary correctional education courses”).  In prison systems like the Federal Bureau of Prisons, every facility has an electronic law library where this information can be easily obtained.  In prison systems that lack law libraries, the inmate should approach education staff and inquire about any policies and procedures concerning correspondence programs.

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By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy lapd.com

Federal prisoners do not have access to word processors.  Instead, we have access to typewriters and Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) computers which allow us to draft electronic messages — like emails, but not exactly the same — which we can send to approved contacts.  Since word processors are so handy when drafting and revising text, I often utilize the TRULINCS electronic messaging system as the next best thing to write my school papers.  By adhering to the six following steps, I can use the TRULINCS electronic messaging system to draft quality school papers.

Step one is to merely draft an electronic message containing the school paper.  I do so by logging into a TRULINCS computer in my housing unit, selecting the “Public Messaging” option, and selecting the “Draft” icon.  This allows me to draft an electronic message.  Once in the new message file, I can draft as I see fit, though this is done within the system parameters.  Two such parameters concern length of the message and time spent within the electronic messaging folio.  Messages are allowed to be a maximum of 13,000 characters and prisoners are only allowed to spend 30 minutes at a time in the public messaging folio.  As such, if I want to write a longer article or essay, I have to use multiple electronic message files.  Also, if I draft for longer periods of time, I have to log on to work, log off for the requisite 30 minute period, and log back on.  It can be expensive: using the service costs five cents a minute.

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In 2015, Alabama will spend $5.4 million on its prisoner postsecondary education program, to include Calhoun Community College’s courses at Limestone Correctional Facility. Five schools across the state provide college-level certifications.  The Community College courses are separate from adult GED programs in the state’s prisons.  According to the Alabama Community College System, in Fall 2013,…

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