When President Clinton was in office he signed legislation that prohibited prisoners (and prisons) from applying for Federal Pell Grants to help pay for education. As a result, most prison post-secondary education programs eventually ceased to exist because there was no funding. Over the course of the last two decades, policy makers who prided themselves on being “tough on crime” worked to enact harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws while also voting to decrease spending for prison rehabilitation and reentry programs. The results of those policy choices have finally come to fruition and prison administrators, state and federal policy makers, and even the general public has begun to realize the serious need for effective reentry services. Now that the pendulum of crime and punishment has begun to swing down from one extreme toward a more moderate and sensible approach I hope that education will become a top priority within the reentry programming movement that ensues.
The question remain, “What can we do RIGHT NOW to positively influence this push toward the wide spread availability of higher education inside the U.S. prison system?” First, we can “Talk It Up” with every prison administrator we come into contact with each day. Second, we can encourage our family members and friends to contact their state and federal government representatives about reinstating Pell Grants to fund post-secondary education programs. If we truly hope to reduce the rate of recidivism in this country then we need to make education a top priority for EVERY single person….including those of us who are incarcerated. University Of Pittsburgh Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Tony Gaskew stated it best when he said, “Education Is The Equalizer.” So lets all “Talk It Up” and work together to convince politicians and the rest of the general public that tax payer money is much better spent on education instead of incarceration. Use your influence wisely to make a difference in the world.