Dropping Knowledge

Hey everyone! I know I don’t usually blog twice in one week, but after some recent legislative moves in my home state, and the onslaught of ignorance on social media about the topic, Ms. K is gonna drop some knowledge on you today. As you may or may not know, New York state has recently moved to bring higher education back into their prison system. I saw something about this late last week, and of course there was some backlash to it, but today as I was reading a post about a dog who’d been so severely beaten it needed to be put down because it couldn’t be socialized, the Facebook Politicians were weighing in on what should happen to the owner and someone commented, “Prison without a degree.” SIGH. SIGH SIGH SIGH. I really, truly, honestly wish that people wouldn’t open their mouths about shit they don’t understand. But alas, they do and then I get fired up, and here we are.

Sooooo: Prisoner Education. As it currently stands, New York only allows incarcerated men and women to earn their GED while incarcerated. In order to take the GED, you must pre-test, and there’s a pre-test to the pre-test (no, I’m not kidding). When I first got into volunteering (I bold that because I’ll come back to this point in a minute) to teach some pre-GED classes in the NYS system, I thought for sure I’d be teaching people who were a week or two from test-ready. Nope. No no no. I’ll talk about tracking a bit later on, but these men–grown men–were reading at 2nd and 3rd grade levels. I had to completely change my approach to teaching, but in the few short months that I volunteered, I saw such a marked improvement in my students and their quality of life, I can promise you, this topic is important.

Why Educate?

The short reason: Because it freaking works. About 95 percent of the men and women currently incarcerated are going to be released at some point in their lifetime. Over 650,000 men and women are released from prison annually, and as it currently stands, two-thirds of them will reoffend and be reincarcerated in the first 3 years. When these men and women have participated in an education program while incarcerated, they are almost 60% less likely to reoffend! Now, I’m no mathmetician, but let’s think about this for a minute…if taxpayer dollars pay for education now, isn’t that cheaper than “paying” for the person to be reincarcerated in 2 years? Hmm…

Oh yeah, and that number up above about reading at 2nd and 3rd grade levels? Yeah, that should tell you a lot about the men and women in the system right now. Education is not necessarily their strong suit, so all this bitching about how much it’s going to cost—in all reality, higher education isn’t going to be an option for all of them in the time they are incarcerated. Right now, your taxpayer dollars already pay for the bulk of the education that happens (and by “pays” I mean it buys books because most of the teachers are volunteers), so it’s really not going to change much once higher education returns because these students just are not ready.

But what about the guards who aren’t getting an education?

I will say, I wish there was some kind of reward program for those who work in facilities should they choose to further their education. I personally do not know if there are places that allow prison officials to attend classes free of charge, but I don’t know that it’s legislation that would necessarily be turned down. However, if it was turned down, wanna know why? Because of this little thing called “access.” Guards come from a point of privilege and have a access to means of higher education that those who are incarcerated don’t have (before, during, and especially after they are locked up). I’d love to have an entire blog dedicated everything wrong with access to education in this country–prisoner education and otherwise–but I haven’t gotten there yet (my friend has, though, and you can check her out here: http://diaryofanangrypublicschoolteacher.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/the-angry-public-school-teacher/).

I will say this: the majority of those incarcerated, particularly in New York, are young, non-white men. These men are societally and institutionally disadvantaged when it comes to education from a very young age (they are tracked in school [it’s called the school-to-prison pipeline. look it up.]), so sometimes the education inside prison is the only chance they will ever have at receiving formal education. Additionally, when you’re coming from a background that doesn’t support education (whether that’s your family, peer group, or educators) because you don’t “fit the mold,” it is imperative that someone give you a chance, even if that chance has to come once you’re incarcerated.

Well you’re just a hippie liberal who thinks this is okay…

Shut up. I live in THE reddest of red states right now and guess what?! They’ve got one of the leading prisoner education programs in the country. Texas is onto something with the way they’ve chosen to education their inmates. I could not find national statistics about reoffending per state, but shit…if you can get out of a Texas prison without being fried (I say this because by the numbers, Texas executes the most prisoners annually), the least you can have an associates degree. Stop, staaahp! I’m kidding (kind of). Yes, Texas also has one of the highest execution rates in the country, but the conversation about that is one for a different time. As it stands, the system of in-prison education in Texas is a model many states (of the states that allow higher education on the inside) are using because it’s working and it’s working well.

Do I need you to agree with me? No.

Do I care if this blog makes you mad? Nope. In fact, most of the people who I WANT to read this so they can get mad aren’t going to do so, but oh well.

Do I want to hear all the reasons you think prisoner education is going to ruin our state? Yep, about as much as I want to hear my acrylic nails run down a chalkboard for 24 hours straight. My house. My rules. I think prisoner education is important, and if you’ve made it this far, maybe you think that too.




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