Most prison inmates have restricted Internet access, which is seemingly an understandable and worthy limitation. Restricted Internet access prevents inmates from communicating with the outside world at an improper and dangerous level and also prevents scams and further crime.

However, these restrictions are also preventing inmates from taking online courses, earning higher education and degrees and ultimately increasing chances of ending up back in prison after being released.

And, ironically, sending someone to prison costs about as much as a year tuition at Harvard. So educating the 2.3 million inmates in United States prisons is arguably a worthy investment.

Allowing Inmates to Take Online Courses Could Decrease Spending

Economic downturn and budget cuts make any changes in the prison education system seem unlikely, but a recent report has potential to change the trend.

The persuasive study, titled “Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons,” discovered that allowing inmates to take online courses could decrease spending and increase options for educational opportunities.

“We believe the technology exists to provide online educational opportunities in an environment that doesn’t sacrifice security,” said the author of the report, IHEP research analyst Brian Sponsler.

6% of Prisoners Enrolled in Vocational Programs

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study revealed that only 6 percent of prisoners were enrolled in vocational or academic post-secondary programs in the 2009-2010 school year, and 86 percent of those enrolled inmates were serving time in just 13 of the 50 states, including Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and New York. The study implies that the other 37 states are not providing access to education for inmates.

Vermont Enrolles More than 1,000 Inmates in Higher Education in 2009-2010

According to the study, the population of prisoners receiving a degree varies throughout the nation. For example, some states with large populations and high prison populations, like Florida, had less than 1,000 students enrolled in higher education programs in the 2009-2010 school year. Yet some small states with low populations, like Vermont, enrolled more than 1,000 inmates in higher education programs in the same year.

Sponsler said that those 13 states with enrolled student inmates were more likely to finance prison education and consider behavioral characteristics to determine an inmate’s eligibility for postsecondary education rather than an inmate’s age and reason for incarceration, unlike the other states with low higher education enrollment.

The study cited President Bill Clinton’s 1994 restriction from inmates from receiving Pell Grants as one of the reasons prisons have struggled to fund education programs for inmates. Since then, programs have been funded by various federal and state support, philanthropic organizations or private money.

Prisons Partnered with Private Colleges

Many prisons have partnered with small private colleges to offer online courses for the inmates and have been successful in reducing recidivism, or returning inmates. Still, these advancements have only taken place on a small scale.

In resolution to this issue, the recent study suggests three ways for revamping the prison education system.

The first suggestion is to create pilot programs at the federal or state level, allowing inmates to take online courses. Next, prisons should join with state colleges to make online prison courses transferable in statewide system and into the college programs. Finally, prisons should restructure requirements for eligibility into prison programs, making need-based available to particular groups of the prison population.

One comment on “Prison inmates will benefit from online courses, study shows

  • i agree that prison inmates should have a chance at college and technical courses. I do believe it will give them something to look forward to when they are released and it will stimulate and educate their mind into a more positive outlook on life in general. So many minds and talents are wasted behind bars, as they seem to think locking up is the answer and it is not. A lot of people are first time offenders and are given a horrible sentence, when is the government going to wake up, there is more corrupt people not in jail, than there are in jail, just take a look around at all the corruption in politicians, it is pathetic. Need I say more.

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