Opportunities prisoners have to study

Education is a passion, both teaching and learning. For those of us who consider ourselves lifelong learners, we understand how learning can make everything feel right even when it’s wrong. What I didn’t think about until Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Claire Ward, submitted this article was how true this is even for those in prison. She’s written a thoughtful article about the availability of education, books, and learning even for those without access to where you and I typically fulfill our need for knowledge:

What opportunities do prisoners have to study?

The main asset that all prisoners have is time, and while there are only a limited number of options for how they can spend it, studying is one of them.

So what opportunities do inmates have when it comes to training and education, and how does this vary depending on their circumstances and the facility where they are incarcerated?

Historical complexities

While the rehabilitative purpose of being jailed is a comparatively modern idea, prisoners were offered basic forms of education from the 19th century onwards, with campaigners arguing that expanding the horizons of inmates through education was the best way to allow them to successfully re-enter society after release.

It was not until the mid-20th century that college-equivalent courses were provided, and this blossomed in the US until a change in legislation in the 1990s meant that the funding for such schemes was significantly reduced.

Efforts to reinstate Pell Grants for prisoners and allow them to study in a more structured way began in 2015, and it currently seems likely that programs will be reintroduced nationally, thanks to the bipartisan support this initiative has received.

Existing opportunities

While the road back towards more comprehensive prison education schemes is still being travelled, inmates in most areas are still able to take a self-motivated approach to studying.

For example, a look at Marion’s prison roster covering the county facility in Indiana reveals that while plenty of items are prohibited from being received by inmates, books are not on this list. The upshot is that as well as having access to the prison’s own library, those on the inside can also get friends and family to send them money to buy books, or ship them publications directly.

This is very much a setup that works in favour of those who are already autodidacts, although as mentioned earlier with so much time on th

eir hands, plenty of prisoners who would not normally use reading as a means of filling their days are far more likely to pick up a book than they would be in the outside world.

Indeed there are a number of famous examples of prisoners who have used their access to library resources while behind bars to learn the ropes of the law, prove their innocence, win their freedom at appeal and ultimately train and qualify as lawyers.

Other challenges

With the promise of improvements to prison education programs, the future is looking brighter for this particular segment of society. However, there are a few pitfalls still to be dealt with when affording inmates the ability to study.

The level of security of the facility in question, as well as the severity of the crime that the individual has committed and their record of behaviour while locked up, will all determine the extent to which they are able to request and access educational literature and other learning resources.

Ideally the funding boost that is planned will alleviate many of the existing issues, but this will take time to come to fruition and so patience is needed.

Image Source: Pixabay


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Author: Jacqui
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