From Prison to Postsecondary Education

For every three people enrolled in a postsecondary institution, one person is under correctional supervision (incarcerated, on parole, or on probation). College has been part of the American Dream for decades, but prisoners and parolees have for the most part been ignored in discussions on improving college enrollment and completion rates.

Most high school students would like to achieve some sort of postsecondary education, but many leave high school unprepared for college work. This may be especially true for young adults involved with the criminal justice system, who are more likely to be from poor, racial-ethnic minority, or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, education levels among the correctional population are much lower than among the general population. Some evidence suggests that increasing educational attainment among offenders may effectively reduce recidivism, but few studies have rigorously examined how postsecondary education affects the correctional population.

The Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, recently launched by the Vera Institute of Justice, “seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings.” The initiative will take place in three states over five years, and evaluations will be conducted by the RAND Corporation. At least one of the states, New Jersey, already has correctional postsecondary education programs in place, including Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative.

The Future of Children issue on Postsecondary Education highlights the dramatic changes that are taking place in institutions of higher education and the students who attend them. As policymakers and educators make efforts to increase enrollment and improve program quality and completion, they should not forget the 7 million people under correctional supervision and what access to college for them might mean for their families and the nation as a whole.

1 thought on “From Prison to Postsecondary Education

  1. Jacqui Wilson

    Mr. Jacobsen,

    What you have stated is quite true. I have worked as a public defender in the Adult court system followed by a stint in Juvenile. Then, I served as an Administrative Hearing Official over cases involving the Department of Human Services i.e. child support, Families First, etc. It is a continuous downward spiral for so many. Socioeconomic status is a huge factor, which of course is often indicative of educational levels, environmental influences, and family structural issues.

    I know the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project can work, if administered correctly. Although I have never been to prison personally, I know the struggles children face when coming from a poorer background. I, myself, am the second oldest of my mother’s seven children. We can proudly say that all seven of us have a college degree. Some of us have two or more. Our push came from the fact that our mom is college educated, and my grandmother is college educated. Our maternal environment gave us a strong sense of responsibility of being better and a desire to be better no matter what our circumstances were.

    Rita Pierson said, “Every child deserves a champion.” Our mother and grandmother’s maternal strength championed us. I believe this program can be the champion for many who are considered hopeless.

    Currently, I run the ministry Christian Children’s Empowerment. My hope is that I will be a champion for many who never thought certain things were possible. I use the word “were” because impossibility is past thinking. I try to help children and adults to look forward to a future where excellence is a continuous standard. That’s what my mom and grandmother gave me. I pray the same for the participants in Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project.

    ~Jacqui Wilson, Esq.
    Christian Children’s Empowerment

Comments are closed.