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 Dianne Frazee-Walker

“Adios diablo, may you burn for 1,000 years, just like you were sentenced,”  read a Blog posted in a Cleveland newspaper after Ariel Castro received a life sentence for  kidnapping and torturing three woman for a decade in his Cleveland home.

There is probably no sentence stringent enough to match the heinous crimes Castro committed.  

After plea-bargaining for life in prison as opposed to the death penalty, Castro decided to take his own life by hanging himself in his prison cell.

Dramatic circumstances surrounding Castro’s conviction cause one to speculate; 

Would this have happened if Castro was on suicide watch instead of protective custody?

What would have brought justice for the three victims Castro tormented for 10 years?

One of the victims, 30-year-old Michelle Knight, who was kidnapped at the age of 20,  sobbingly bore witness during her testimony stating death would have been “so much easier” for her captor.

Fate would have it that Castro was still in control of his victim’s emotions when he made the final decision about his punishment.

But did he have the final say?

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Restorative justice is a practice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime by bringing victims, offenders, and community members together to reconcile how that will be done. Outcomes from the process can be transformational.

Dr. Howard Zehr, the pioneer of restorative justice in the United States, proclaims, “A restorative justice framework focuses on repairing the harm done to victims and the community through a process of negotiation, mediation, victim empowerment, and reparation. Within this framework, crime and delinquency present a unique opportunity to build relationships and reach an agreement through a collaborative process.”   Image courtesy moj.gov.jm

The process has been utilized with juvenile first time offenders and proven valuable for reducing the rate of reoffending. Recidivism is reduced from 30% using the conventional punitive system down to 8% using restorative practices with youthful offenders.

Restorative justice approaches to minor delinquency or criminal violations have gained popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere since the 1970s and are increasingly employed as responses to serious delinquency or adult criminal behaviors.

The restorative justice process traditionally involves victims and offenders confronting each other in a conference or also referred to as a circle. Both the victim and offender are voluntary participants. A facilitator and co-facilitator along with community members are also present.

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker It was the morning of May 23rd, 2012.  Sharletta Evans and her older son, Hurd, wereapprehensive when they walked into the prison to meet the man who murdered her three-year-old son and Hurd’s little brother 17 years ago. Raymond Johnson stood up from where he was sitting and solemnly lowered his head in…

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Janine Geske / Photo courtesy of icle.orgBy Dianne Frazee-Walker

While attending a restorative justice conference in 2006, they sat down to eat lunch in the cafeteria at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. A friendly blond woman sat next to them with her tray. She introduced herself as Janine. The group carried on a conversation about restorative justice, which is a principle used most commonly within the justice system that brings victims and offenders together in a circle with a facilitator and other affected members of the community. The main objective of restorative justice is for the offender to be accountable for the harm caused by his/her actions, the victim to express the impact the crime had on them, and to have a voice as to how the harm should be repaired.

Later that day, they attended a presentation within the conference about a unique peace circle that takes place at maximum security prisons. The program brings convicted murderers and family members of murder victims together in a three day process that transforms not only the offenders, but reconciles the pain for the diseased victim’s family members as well.   

They were surprised to see the woman they met at lunch earlier facilitating the lecture. Janine Geske, former justice and judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and professor at Marquette University Law School was speaking about her experience facilitating peace circles with convicted killers and family members of murdered victims inside prison walls.

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