Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Higher education not a priority for area prisons

After slashing higher-education funds for prisons during the mid 1990s, many institutions began a search for alternatives such as vocational programs.

Although these programs are currently flourishing, the decline of higher education is still lingering, and holding many prisoners back from what could keep them from re-entering into a life of crime after their release.

In 1995, Wisconsin was forced to completely eliminate the state’s higher-education program after funding was lost. When this program was still intact, prisoners were able to receive some financial aid such as Pell grants to pay for their education. This outraged many politicians who could not comprehend the idea of giving prisoners the same loyalties as low-income college students.

Prisoners who have five years or less to serve and who are under the age of 25 still have federal funds available. Many supporters of higher education in prison attempted to get the age limit raised to 35 over the past year, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

John Brueggemann, director of the Department of Education in the Department of Corrections of Wisconsin, is a strong supporter of the age-limit increase.

“This would allow higher-education programs to reach many more people, as well as serve as a companion to vocational programs,” Brueggemann said.

Research shows prisoners who engage in educational programs while in prison have a better chance of staying out of prison after released. A study conducted in Sept. 2001 measured the “impact of education while incarcerated on post-release behavior; primarily recidivism and employment,” according to the Correctional Education Association.

Recidivism occurs when an inmate is released from prison and immediately commits the same crime they were previously imprisoned for.

This study found inmates who were involved in education programs ultimately showed lower rates of recidivism after released.

UW law professor James Cooley strongly believes higher-education programs aid in getting prisoners the help they need and that cutting the funds is merely pennywise.

“Without these programs, [prisons] are warehousing people and setting them up for re-offending once they get out,” Cooley said.

Wisconsin prisons are attempting to make up for the lack of higher education with vocational programs. Fifty-four different programs are offered for adults, as well as 18 for juveniles. These programs range from welding to food service.

Prisoners can earn certificates in any of these areas. They also have the opportunity to earn a GED if they never completed high school. Juveniles sometimes have the option of earning an actual high school diploma if special arrangements are made with the high school they would have been attending.
There is no charge for inmates to participate in any of these programs, which helps keep the programs running strong. In 1998, approximately 526 prisoners were enrolled in vocational programs in Wisconsin; an average of 735 are currently enrolled.
These numbers are still increasing. Some facilities are even forced to maintain a wait list for inmates trying to get into certain programs due to a lack of funds. Nationwide, approximately 6,000 offenders are already enrolled out of 21,000 total, with numbers increasing daily.

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