Prisoner education - American Education
The formal and informal instruction of juveniles and adults incarcerated in prisons for their crimes. Prisoner education in the Americas may have originated in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, where William Penn abolished capital punishment, which was a standard penalty for even the most petty crimes in the British colonies. He replaced it with prisons, where local ministers preached to the prisoners and taught some to read the Bible. After Penn died in 1718, the British authorities reinstituted the death penalty, which remained in effect until after the Revolutionary War. In 1789, the Pennsylvania legislature substituted incarceration for the death penalty. The Walnut Street Gaol in Philadelphia became the first prison in the United States, but no prisoner education was introduced until 1829, when Pennsylvania developed a system whereby each prisoner was isolated in its Cherry Prison Hill cells, day and night, with nothing but a Bible. Authorities hoped that constant study of the Bible would eventually render each felon penitent, and they thus renamed their prison the Eastern State Penitentiary. The first prison to be so named, the penitentiary was an alternative to the earlier prison model developed at Auburn State Prison in New York in 1819, when prisoners worked together in silence during the day and were housed in separate cells at night. The idleness and isolation at Cherry Hill drove prisoners to madness, however, while the products of prisoner labor at Auburn produced enormous profits for New York State. Auburn thus became the model for most prisons built in the United States throughout the rest of the 19th century.
In 1870, a group of penologists intent on prison reform organized the National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline (now the American Correctional Association). Their work led to the establishment of reformatories for juvenile delinquents, where some youngsters were taught to read, write and calculate and, in many cases, offered vocational education in various manual trades. The National Congress failed initially in its efforts to convert the goal of adult prisons from one of punishment to one of rehabilitation, but, over the next half-century, as they were joined by social reformers and educators, prisoner education gained a foothold in prisons run by more enlightened wardens. From the beginning, however, prisoner education has been difficult because of high levels of illiteracy and undereducation among the inmates.
By the early 1940s, all but the highest security prisons had introduced some form of prison education—usually a mixture of formal primary school education and literacy training mixed with morality training. Prisoner education subsequently expanded to include formal classes in primary and secondary school and even some college-level subjects, along with extensive vocational education to improve prisoner access to jobs after their release. Some nearby schools and colleges regularly send teachers to conduct prison classes. By 1999, there were more than 3,000 part- and full-time educators of inmates. In addition, prisoners generally have access to educational television and correspondence courses in primary and secondary education leading to GENERAL EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT high school equivalency diplomas and higher education leading to college and graduate school degrees.
By the 1940s, too, most juvenile institutions had expanded their facilities to include schools that qualified as separate public school districts in most states. Although far from fully equipped and offering only limited curricula, they nevertheless provided the complete, standard elementary school and middle school curricula and the complete curriculum of the general education track (see TRACKING) of conventional high schools. In the 1990s, however, a surge in the prisoner population brought prisoner education to an abrupt end in many institutions. By 1998, the prison population surged to more than 1.3 million, about four times what it had been in 1980, while the prisoner population in “jails”— smaller, locally operated facilities holding prisoners incarcerated for less than a year— increased to nearly 600,000. Apart from the staggeringly high prisoner illiteracy rate— about 70% in many institutions—the sheer size of the population made it impossible to expand prisoner education to meet the needs. Even where such efforts were made, periodic lockdowns or the remanding of individual students to solitary confinement disrupted so many prisoner education programs that their number and enrollment became impossible to calculate accurately. Moreover, growing public anger about crime and the apparently luxurious amenities in some prisons led to sharp budget cuts for all but the most basic prisoner needs in many states. Unlike other Americans, however, prisoners do not have any basic legal “right” to an education, despite assertions to the contrary by civil liberties organizations. Although the American Correctional Association’s Manual of Correctional Standards states that the “basic purpose” of prisons is “the rehabilitation of those sent there,” no court has ever directly held that a prisoner is entitled to either rehabilitation or education. Indeed, in 1995 the U.S. Congress declared prisoners ineligible for PELL GRANTS, the most important source of aid, accounting for more than 10% of financial assistance for college students across America.
In 2002, however, a study by the Correctional Education Association and City University of New York’s Graduate School and University Center found a correlation between taking classes in prison and reduced likelihood of committing crimes after release. The result was a vast expansion of course offerings, and 43 of 45 state prison systems now offer highereducation opportunities to at least some prisoners. Fourteen such systems, however, accounted for 89% of the 85,000 prisoners enrolled across the nation—about 5% of the total prison population. Sixty-two percent of prisoners taking college classes were enrolled in vocational courses leading to certificates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is the largest provider of higher education to prisoners, with a total enrollment of nearly 15,000, or more than 15% of the federal prison population. About 11% of the prison population is enrolled in Texas and North Carolina, 8% in Washington, 7% in Illinois and 5% in California and Colorado. No other state prison system was educating as much as 5% of its prison population, and more than 30 states were educating fewer than 1,000 prisoners each.