How to Stop Revolving Prison Doors With Books

By Alice Hu / Harvard Political Review

Education reduces crime. This connection seems like common sense, and indeed it has been researched, analyzed, and affirmed countless times. According to a 2007 study by researchers at Columbia University, Princeton University, and City University of New York, higher education reduces the crime rates of both juveniles and adults by impacting social behavior and economic stability.

The effect of education on crime reduction is even more dramatic for a certain group within the population: the incarcerated. To many, the idea of convicts receiving a free college education behind bars is confounding and, more often, infuriating. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a plan to publicly finance basic college education programs in state prisons, legislators in Albany called it “a slap in the face” for law-abiding citizens.

While this response is understandable, the arguments themselves neglect the actual effects of college-in-prison programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, inmates who participated in education programs had a 43 percent lower chance of returning to prisons than those who did not. By drastically reducing the recidivism rate of former inmates, education in prisons produces a tremendous social benefit for all members of society. Prison education programs not only save an enormous amount of tax dollars spent on prisons annually, but they also have a profound effect on thousands of families and communities. The current resistance to college in prison often rests upon political rhetoric rather than any factual evidence. Indeed, this type of language is perhaps indicative of a large, troubling trend in education and incarceration.

Revival of College In Prison

While college-in-prison programs may be a foreign idea to many, there were in fact 350 such programs in the United States in 1990. By 1997, however, only eight programs remained. The drastic cut was a result of the “tough on crime” policies of the 1990s, beginning with the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in U.S. history. One of the provisions of this legislation overturned the Higher Education Act of 1965 and essentially eliminated all federal aid for higher education in prisons.

With high school dropouts disproportionately represented in prisons, this shift in policy meant that the vast majority of inmates are now released from prison without any post-secondary education. Compounded with a criminal record, this lack of post-secondary education makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an inmate to find employment after his or her release. This is an important contributing factor in the United States’ staggering recidivism rate. According to a five-year study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014, about 76 percent of former inmates are arrested within five years of their release. The recidivism rate is even higher for inmates who were 39 years old or younger at the age of the release.  These high recidivism rates contributed to a staggering 82 percent increase in the national prison population from 1990 to 2002.

Click to read more ...

Viewpoint: Prison Spending Hurts Education? Not Exactly.

By Robert Robb

The knock on Gov. Doug Ducey's budget that seems to have gained the most traction is that it shortchanges K-12 education in favor of prisons.

Now, an argument can be made that Arizona underfunds K-12 education. In fact, I've made it.

There's a reasonable discussion to be had about Arizona's incarceration rates. And certainly, a dollar spent on one thing can't be spent on another. Budgets are about making choices.

But the claim that Arizona has favored prisons over education is grossly overblown.

Since 2000, annual state spending on corrections has indeed gone up, by 95 percent.

But state spending on K-12 education has also gone up markedly, particularly when the proceeds of Proposition 301, the education sales tax approved by voters in 2000, are included. The recent cutbacks were preceded by some healthy increases. The net is an increase of 76 percent since 2000.

Because of a much bigger spending base, the gross increase in annual spending on education is $1.8 billion, compared to less than $500 million for corrections.

So, there's not that much of a case to be made that prison spending has crowded out spending on K-12 education.

Ducey proposes contracting with private prisons for 3,000 additional medium-security beds over the next three years. Critics mount two objections: That it is private prisons, which allegedly cost more. And that sentencing reform could reduce the need for additional prison beds.

Click to read more ...

Growing Educational Opportunities for Prisoners

Welding Instructor Tucker Bauman (left) / Image courtesy

Welding Instructor Tucker Bauman (left) / Image courtesy

By Christopher Zoukis

Turning hardened criminals into productive members of society does not happen on its own, it takes an education. With 68 percent of prisoners without a high school diploma or a GED, there is no better time than now to educate our nations' prisoners.

Such is the case in the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Seeing the need to provide its prisoners with an education, ODC has teamed up with Central Oregon Community College to bring a trade skill to those behind the wall. Adult Basic Education, GED test preparation, and programs in welding and manufacturing that earn college credits are among the programs offered to prisoners.

Tucker Bauman has been instructing the welding program since 2009. He earned his associate of applied science degree in manufacturing technology while attending COCC.

The welding program is only offered to students with a high school diploma or GED, a reading score of 242 and a math score of 236, and only accepts 10 students. The program spans 19 classes that earn a student 45 credits, and a one year certificate through the college. To date, 63 students have completed this program.

At the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, every student is required to have a GED or high school diploma. For every student without one, classes are available, free, to aid the student in attaining a GED. With a 98 percent passing rate, it appears this program is working well. Every GED earned will give a student a chance at a brighter future, and they can also tutor future GED students.

According to the Broadside, a local news outlet, the prison is looking to expand its programs to provide a diagnostician for learning disabled students.

It appears prisons are beginning to understand the value of educating their prisoners. As in this case, students are provided a basic education and a valuable trade that can be used to build a career, provide for their families and contribute to society, thus staying out of prison.

Allendale Warden Working to Make A Difference

Image courtesy

By Christopher Zoukis

When looking at recidivism rates (the national average being 75 percent), the answer to this gruesome statstic is education.

But while the majority of prisoners do not have enough money for an education, it becomes time for prisons to step up and find the means to educate its prisoners. These sky-high recidivism rates are a burden to taxpayers and the money used to incarcerate a person could be well used elsewhere.

This is the case with John R. Pete, Allendale Correctional Institute's Warden in South Carolina. "I wanted to make a difference. I chose to make a diffenece because some of the facts speak for themselves." says Pete, who states, "Now, do you want the same inmate I locked up 15 years ago to be released and come back to your community, or do you want me inside the prison to give this inmate some programming to try to change his character and improve that person before he is turned back out into the community?" Expanding further Pete says, "we cannot keep a man in a cage and expect him to improve himself."

With 75 percent of prisoners with no high school education and a 50 percent recidivism rate in South Carolina, Pete is seeking to reduce the recidivism rate by five percent. This could mean $17 million per year in taxpayer dollar savings. Of the 22,000 prisoners in South Carolina, 95 percent of them will be released some day.

Last year alone it cost $300 million to incarcerate its prisoners, roughly $13,600 per prisoner.

With these horrifying numbers, Pete has actively worked to change this trend by implementing numerous programs in his prison to allow prisoners to better themselves.

Among the 218 programs offered at Allendale are several religious programs. Pete is raising money to build a worship center through a non-profit at his prison. GED classes are offered.

A parental program called Proverbs 226 aims to fix broken relationships to keep their kids out of prison. A blueprint reading and beekeeping certification class are available as are AA, pottery, financial planning and bible study. Prisoners may also take in unwanted dogs and cats to prepare them for adoption. And there are quilting classes as well.

According to an article in Bluffton Today, there are 15 Sun City residents who volunteer at the prison through the Kairos Prison Ministry. Pete is always looking for more people to volunteer and if there is any way anyone can donate their time or skills, Pete says, I promise I can use you." You can even take a tour to see what prison is really like.

As long as a prisoner is learning and improving himself, Pete is all for it, and he certainly has done his part to give them the tools they need to reach that goal. Pete may very well contribute to a reduction in recidivism, and prisons nationwide need to aspire to do the same. The answer? Education.

New Focus On Education For Juvenile Prisoners

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Christopher Zoukis

On December 8, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released new guidelines, coined a "Correctional Education Guidance Package," designed to enhance educational programming in juvenile detention centers. These guidelines have the potential to help many of the 60,000 juvenile prisoners who are currently in custody.

The state of educational quality and achievement in American juvenile detention centers is deplorable. According to a May 2014 report from My Brother's Keeper Task Force, only 47 percent of incarcerated juveniles achieve any high school credits and only 6.6 percent succeed in obtaining a high school diploma or GED credential. To rectify this, as reported by the San Louis Obispo's Renee School, "The report called for facilities to provide academic and job-related instruction tailored to students needs' and comparable in quality to what they'd get in public schools."

While the. DOJ provides guidelines and oversight to correctional facilities and the DOE provides the like to educational providers, both have a vested interest in programs that accept funding from their respective departments, such as juvenile justice centers. Often the offer to expand funding or the threat to rescind it is enough to make such programs comply with these departments' wishes.

In a collective "dear colleague" letter to chief state school officers and attorneys general, the DOJ and DOE affirmed that juvenile prisoners should have access to "the same opportunities to meet the state's challenging academic content standards and student achievement standards as they would if they were enrolled in the public schools of the state.”

As reported by Correctional News, problem areas addressed by the letter include "the transfer of education records, evaluation and identification of juveniles with learning disabilities, hiring and training of qualified personnel, development of individualized education programs, and the institution of appropriate disciplinary procedures."

These objectives compliment President Obama's goal of the United States having the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020 and all Americans having at least one year of post-secondary education bv that time, whether it be college or career education.

This also becomes a fiscal concern of the American people. Government Security News has reported, "The average cost to confine a juvenile is $88,000 per year — and a recent study showed that about 55 percent of youth were rearrested within 12 months of release." With costs so high per juvenile in custody, it's no wonder that America spends around $60 billion annually on corrections.

To those of us who study correctional education, we know that education is the key to jobs, and jobs to successful reentry back into society. With each additional level of education attained, the rate of recidivism reduces incrementally. This is due to both cognitive changes in the incarcerated student and enhanced job prospects post-release.

There are few groups of people in prison who deserve more of a helping hand than youth gone astray. These young people are those who society has largly failed; coming from broken homes, poverty, and crime-ridden communities. It's about time that we offer them the same educational opportunities as their non-incarcerated, public school-taught peers. As Attorney General Eric Holder said in a rather compassionate statement, "At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every young person who's involved in the system retains the quality education they need to rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures." For the sake of our nation, we at hope that these words are more than political posturing, but a true commitment to change.

College for Convicts: New Study Proposes $60BN Annual Budget Cut - By Providing Higher Education in Nation's Prisons

The study, conducted by legal commentator Christopher Zoukis, concludes that offering post-secondary and academic education to prisoners can cut $60 billion from the national budget every year – without scrapping existing programs. Zoukis has compiled his research and findings into ‘College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons’, a game-changing new book being released at a time when correctional educational programs are being clawed back or eliminated at an alarming rate.

Petersburg, VA -- (ReleaseWire) -- 12/08/2014 -- The United States' national deficit is a hot topic; overburdened with a massive prison budget comprising of the cost of high-tech prison construction and operations, utilities, food, medical supplies and staff costs. However, a new study conducted by legal advocate Christopher Zoukis has found that the national budget could be cut by $60 billion annually – just by providing prisoners with post-secondary education.

Everything is exposed in 'College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons'; combining the author's own original research with a summary of several hundred articles, conference papers, and academic studies from the past two decades. The bottom line is a compelling case for using prison education to save $60 billion annually and vastly improve public safety. It can all be achieved through reducing recidivism by a mere 10%.

"The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to recidivism rates and education. Wouldn't we rather release into society educated and rehabilitated ex-prisoners who qualify for jobs, who pay taxes, and spend consumer dollars to bolster our economy so taxpayers don't have to?" Zoukis asks.

The book makes its case through clear and unambiguous facts. Among them:

- There are 2.3 million incarcerated prisoners

- 700,000 are violent offenders who have a 6th grade level of education and will likely re-offend and end up back in prison

- Prisoners who attain an AA degree- 13.7% recidivism

- Prisoners who attain a bachelor's degree-5.6% recidivism

- Prisoners who attain a master's degree- 0% recidivism

"Clearly not all prisoners can be educated," Zoukis adds. "But the number of prisoners who are beyond rehabilitation is relatively small; most are eager for education and can turn from crime to live a productive, law-abiding life. As a result, crime in America would decrease more and more with every generation. It costs ten times less to prevent crime than to imprison offenders. Yet, despite all logic, each year correctional educational programs are reduced or eliminated. Computer learning is not allowed. Research indicates that this generates more prisoner unrest and violence, and a greater need to fund additional security."

'College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons', published by McFarland, is available now:

To learn more about how education in American prisons is an effective tool for crime control, visit

                                                            Christopher Zoukis

                                                            Christopher Zoukis

About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is a leading expert in the field of correctional education. Founder of, contributing writer to The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News and internationally acknowledged expert on education for prisoners, he strives to inspire the public and law makers to expand educational offerings for prisoners. He has been incarcerated for eight years. He is held at FCI Petersburg Medium, Virginia.

Education Through the Airwaves: Britain's National Prison Radio

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Christopher Zoukis

Given the choice between studying math and improving literary skills, or producing a radio show, it's not too hard to guess which option most prison inmates would go for. Yet in Britain, National Prison Radio has found that the two make excellent partners.

Radio Feltham pioneers prison radio

The history of prison radio in Britain dates back to 1994 when Mark Robinson and Roma Hooper decided they wanted to find a way to show inmates in the Feltham Young Offenders Institution, just west of London, that the world had not forgotten them. At the time conditions inside the institution were difficult, with rising rates of violence and self-harm.

The pair mooted the idea of a radio station for inmates to the prison's governor, and with his support Radio Feltham was born. Programs were broadcast to inmates by inmates, and consisted mostly of music and banter. Over the next several years a few other prisons established similar stations.

A radio partnership

While locally successful, the stations had no professional support and no coordination, and quality and content were variable. There was clearly potential to do more, and the critical step to realizing this potential was the formation of a partnership between

Her Majesty's Prison Service, the U.K. Probation Service, the BBC, and a number of education providers in 2005, tasked with expanding and professionalizing prison radio. Phil Maguire, then a radio producer with the BBC, was appointed to lead the project.

Maguire knew only too well the importance of communicating with individuals who may feel sidelined from society from his earlier days as a residential social worker in children's homes.

Maguire's remit was to develop additional prison radio stations while, at the same time, shifting the focus from entertainment to education. As expected, he found that very many inmates had poor academic skills, stemming from a poor experience in school, and no great enthusiasm for getting back into a classroom.

Fun and purposeful learning

Learning to be a radio producer, however, was a whole different ballgame, and one which the inmates took to with gusto. Yet as they learned the techniques of radio journalism, writing scripts and preparing for interviews, their literary skills soared. As they calculated timings to fit program schedules, their math skills grew. And since many of these activities had to be done on computers, their IT competencies improved too. At the end, inmates graduated with a formal qualification in radio production.

As more and more orisons sought advice on how to set up their own radio stations, Maguire left to set up his own charity, the Prison Radio Association, to advise prisons on how to set up and operate a radio station, and how to maximize the educational and rehabilitative potential.

In 2007, the Prison Radio Association was asked to set up a radio station at Brixton Prison in London. The station launched later that year as the first 24 hours a day, 7 days a week prison radio.

The birth of National Prison Radio

The success of Electric Radio Brixton finally convinced the U.K. Ministry of Justice to establish National Prison Radio (NPR). The first broadcast hit the airwaves in May 2009, and now NPR broadcasts to about 75,000 of the U.K.'s 85,000 prisoners out of the Brixton studios.

Since then further production houses have been established at three other prisons, including a women's prison near Manchester and a young offenders’ prison in Wigan.

The Prison Radio Association receives no funding from the Ministry of Justice for running NPR, so must raise its own funds. To help with this PRA established a production company which produces radio documentaries, webcasts, and podcasts for clients including the BBC's national radio stations.

Awards and honors

Through all these activities National Prison Radio provides the inmates who run it with fantastic training and experience.

In return, the inmates give the best of themselves. Over the last five years they have won ten Sony Radio Academy Awards, and NPR was named Station of the Year for London and the South East by the Radio Academy for both 2012 and 2013.

From small beginnings, designed to bring hope to a few hundred young offenders in West London, has grown a network that brings education, information, entertainment, and companionship to tens of thousands of inmates throughout the British prison system. Now that's something worth listening to.

Addressing the School to Prison Pipeline: Why Education is the Liberation of Black Youth

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Jonathan Stith

There is a war going on outside -- that no Black youth is safe from.

Most recently, we've seen this war played out through the extrajudicial killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and other victims of state-sanctioned violence. But we also know it through the devastation of mass incarceration under "New Jim Crow" policies and the "War on Drugs". State violence against Black youth doesn't end in the streets with police. It's in our public education system and it's killing our children. We charge Mentacide and demand an end to the war on youth.

Mentacide is "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group's minds with the ultimate objective being the extirpation of the group," according to Black psychologist and political activist, Dr. Bobby E. Wright. In other words, if mentacide is the method, genocide is the goal.

State violence is government power that hurts, government power that harms. It is the violent indoctrination that in America, for Black children, learning means learning to stay in your place. The same lesson the Little Rock Nine learned when trying to integrate Central High School almost over half century ago is the same one youth learn today. The national guard of yesterday has been replaced with a school-to-prison pipeline that suspends Black youth at three times the rate of their White peers, but the end result is the same: immediate annihilation or compulsory assimilation to teach Black youth their place.

Education is the earliest form of state violence Black youth endure. The Department of Defense's 1033 program equips school police with all the grenade launchers and tanks they can haul while our students scramble to find guidance counselors and books. The federal government has denounced the school to prison pipeline while continuing to fund it.

Click to read more ...

CHSVT Board: Cutting Prison Education Is Shortsighted

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

Editor’s note: This commentary was submitted by the Community High School of Vermont State Board. Its members are George Cross, chair, Winooski; Carol Bokan, vice chair, Shelburne; David Luce, secretary, Waterbury; Daniel Alcorn, Rutland; Sarah Flynn, Burlington; Richard Fraser, South Ryegate; Jason Gibbs, Duxbury; and Brian Vachon, Montpelier.

The Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) is the fully licensed and accredited high school and vocational training and certification program for inmates in Vermont’s corrections system. For many students, it is the only opportunity they will have to acquire the academic, social and technical skills they need to get a job — and to be able to contribute to our state in a positive way — when they re-enter the community.

The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin was no doubt searching for budget cuts that impact the fewest Vermonters. That makes educational programs for inmates are inviting targets. After all, who wants to defend convicts over legitimate budgetary demands of other, more influential and less controversial constituencies?

We do.

Here is why: The economic and social value of CHSVT and its programs is significant. The money you invest in it as a taxpayer produces a meaningful and measurable return.

The school has about 650 students – 504 enrolled students, plus an additional 150 students participating in workshops, seminars and internships. Last year, students earned 332 trade certificates and more than three dozen students completed high school. CHSVT also provides remedial services for inmates who graduated from the public high school system, but who still have startling academic needs in core areas like reading, writing and mathematics.

Click here to read more ...

Arizona's New Governor: We Have No Money For Public Education, But Let's Fund This Private Prison

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Sam Brodey

In his inaugural speech in January, Arizona's new Republican governor, Doug Ducey, struck a budget hawk's tone while staring down a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. "Fair warning: The budget will not meet with general approval among special interests." he said. "I can assure you that a more efficient government is not only necessary, but sensible." But there was one special interest group that must have been pleased when Ducey rolled out his budget proposal: the private prison industry.

Ducey's austere budget plan slashed $384 million in state programs, including $75 million in funding for Arizona's public universities. But it earmarked $5 million for a new, 3,000-bed private prison that even the state's most notorious law enforcement official, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, argues is unnecessary.

Last week, Arizona's state corrections director, Charles Ryan, went to the state Legislature to pitch the plan, claiming the new prison would accommodate a projected increase in inmates. Arizona already has the sixth-highest incarceration rate in the United States—Massachusetts, which has roughly the same population as Arizona, incarcerates one-fourth as many people. State experts blame draconian sentencing laws, such as the requirement that nonviolent offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences behind bars. In a statement to the Arizona Republic, Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, cast the plan as a safety imperative. "State prison beds are at capacity. More prisoners require more beds, and the governor is not going to risk public safety during a budget shortfall," he said.

Click to read more ...

Yavapai Reentry Project

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

The Yavapai Reentry Project, established in 2011, fulfills a critical need within the state prison system and the Prescott, Arizona area. The main objective of the program is to empower newly released inmates and create a safe environment for the communities they re-enter. The goal of human service non-profit organizations, government agencies, and inspired community members is to collaborate in an effort to develop strategies that successfully integrate released prisoners back into society and in effect lower the recidivism rate.

AmeriCorps, Vista, and Community Counts are umbrella organizations that support Yavapai Reentry Project. Yavapai County Community foundation makes the project financially possible. Funding is donated through individuals, families, memorial gifts, trusts and businesses.

One of the programs the Yavapai Reentry Program offers to recently exiting inmates is Community Coaching. The program is facilitated by trained volunteer community members interested in helping released inmates adjust to a new life outside of prison. Participants are voluntary and screened for eligibility.

The time limit for participation in the program is six months after release, but shorter release time is recommended. The reason for recent release preference is the chance of falling back into a negative environment and the poor choices that impacted criminal and addictive behavior is lower when addressed early. Released inmates must have a residence to qualify for the program.  

Community members are trained to empower ex-inmates as they make a smooth transition back into society. Coaches are matched with same-gender, newly-released inmates and commit to contact with their assigned inmate at least twice a month for one year.

A volunteer community coach’s job is to remove personal and environmental obstacles that prevent participants from positively adjusting to reentry. The most significant challenges released inmates face are housing, employment, and reintegrating back into their family and social environment.

Gaining the participant’s trust is an essential element of forming a productive relationship. Active listening is a vital communication skill coaches need to foster trust between themselves and their participants. It is crucial for community coaches to emphasize their participant’s strengths and celebrate their successes, no matter how small.

Community coaches are considered a model and mentor for their participants on how to relate to the “real world.” Coaches advocate for their participants by helping them to effectively solve problems and providing appropriate resources for their needs.  

A Community Coach supports the participant to change their behavior without enabling. The objective is to guide participants to make positive changes by raising awareness of problems, the harm caused by their behavior, and recognizing negatives of target behavior. The goal is for participants to gain confidence and self-sufficiency in the art and science of Living in the World.

Once the participant and his or her coach has achieved a sense of accomplishment for behavior change and problem-solving, it is the coach’s role to develop a maintenance plan that supports the participant’s new behaviors and change.

Effective maintenance is measured by the participant applying new behavior change strategies for at least six months, continuing to develop self-sufficiency around behavior change and ongoing improvements to changed behavior. 

Characteristics of participants that are in the maintenance stage are evident when they clearly demonstrate and sustain changed behavior, substantial attention is focused on avoiding relapses, participant is uncomfortable with past behavior temptations, and criminogenic thoughts or urges to use drugs are less frequent. 

The most significant benefit of Yavapai Reentry Project is program participation has positive residual effects on both Community Coaches and participants. Participants gain knowledge from their coaches and coaches learn from the participants.          

To The Graduation Class of 2015

FCI Milan / Image courtesy

FCI Milan / Image courtesy

By Justin Lewis Donohue

There are a million clichés that come with graduation. Sayings that have been carried over the years through songs, cards, poems, and speeches. Every year, one or more people will stand before a graduating class and dispense upon them a set of words that, although they are meant to be advice, often turn out to be self-congratulatory conjecture compiled with a heavy dosage of self-interest and probably even unintended irony. I am going to do my best not to be that guy.

I cannot stand here today and pretend as if I know what life was like before you came to Milan. Each of us likely came to this place by different paths. I also cannot stand here and say that the life I had growing up was anything like yours. I did not wear your shoes, and I'm not going to pretend that I did; however, you may be surprised by how much we have in common. "We're not so different, you and I" the old phrase goes, and in many ways, it's true.

I am not going to pretend that I know each and every one of you, because I do not. I do not know where you come from, I do not know what kind of life you had, and I do not know what made you make the decisions that you made. This is what I do know: I know that you have made two decisions--two of the most important decisions in your entire life. Two decisions that not only affect you in the here and now, but will also continue to influence the rest of your life. I know this because I also have made these same two decisions, and they are the most important decisions of our entire lives.

The first decision was to violate the law. Which law is probably different for each and every one of us, in one way or another. However, which law was violated is completely irrelevant because the result was still the same for all of us in the end--incarceration. Each of us chose to do something that has separated us from our friends, our families, our loved ones, and our children for a period of time that we cannot ever get back. Though our lengths of separation may be different, the results are still the same: hurt, pain, heartache, and sadly, sometimes even indifference. For some this is unbearable. For them, the only thing that can be done is to wallow in self-pity, crying out "Woe is me, look at what the system has done to me!" For others, however, this is a chance to overcome our pasts.

To those of you sitting here in this room today, I want you to know that the second thing I have in common with you is the desire to change, the desire to overcome, and the desire to move forward. With these desires I have made a choice--we have made a choice--and that choice is to not let our pasts dictate our futures. To move on with our lives, and to do something that puts us on a path to a better future. We have made the choice to get our high school diplomas. Though many of us are different in race, religion, and background, we have found ways to come together and help each other to become the class of 2015.

All that said, I would like to share with you this last bit of advice. These are not my words, but they are words that have had a tremendous impact on the lives of those who either read them or heard them--an impact so strong that they "went viral" long before the term was ever coined. From a newspaper column in 1997 to a song in 1999, these words are timeless and, I believe, more than appropriate for this very moment. So...

To the gentlemen of the class of 2015, wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked--you are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes your behind. The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this tell me how.

Keep you old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it in every way that you can. Don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. Dance--even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Don't read beauty magazines, they'll only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents; you never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few, you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft--travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders--respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time your 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it's worth... but trust me on the sunscreen.

Thank You.

How Will a $2 Million Cut Affect Vermont's Prison Education Program?

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Jane Lindholm, Ric Cengeri & Amanda Shepard

In his budget address last month, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that he plans to cut almost $2 million of funding from the Community High School of Vermont, a program that provides high school classes to those in Vermont’s prison system.

There are 17 campuses in Vermont, according to Wilhelmina Picard, Vermont's director of corrections education — one in each of the prison facilities and at nine parole and probation offices throughout the state. The proposed budget cuts would reduce the program to four prison campuses in Vermont. 

Picard says that on a typical day, there are approximately 500 to 600 enrolled students in classrooms throughout the state.

“We have basic skills classes, regular high school classes, career and technical education classes, welding programs, culinary arts programs and a number of different things,” says Picard. She explains that the Community High School doesn’t look much different from other high schools, other than its alternative setting.

Click to read more ...

Throw the Book at Them

Cardinal Dolan / Image courtesy

Cardinal Dolan / Image courtesy

By Leon Neyfakh

This past Saturday, 53 inmates at Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, were awarded college diplomas as part of the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that enables convicted felons to take courses and earn degrees while incarcerated. Among the graduates were newly minted experts in advanced math, literature, and social studies who had written senior papers with titles like “The Artistic Excursions of Thomas Hardy” and “Combinatorial Game Symmetry: Encountering the Odd Multiple of K.” As they walked across the stage in the prison auditorium, their olive-green uniforms concealed under flowing robes, family members and friends cheered from their seats. Guards assigned to monitor the event stood by chewing gum and listening to their burbling walkie-talkies.

At one point, a young man who has been incarcerated since he was 16 on a second-degree–manslaughter conviction delivered a speech about how profoundly his life had changed when he was accepted into the Bard program five years into his sentence. He quoted Dostoevsky, whom he called his favorite storyteller, saying that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” At the end of his remarks, he broke into a sob as he addressed his father, who was sitting in the audience alongside his mother and two siblings. “I’m sorry I have dishonored our family. I’m sorry for having put you through such unbearable pain,” the man said. “But today, let us smile. We have cried too long.”


Click to read more ...

This Is How Much the U.S. Spends on Imprisoning vs. Educating People, in One Startling GIF

By Zeeshan Aleem / Policy.Mic

Hardly a day goes by without a member of the media or policy world pronouncing that America's education system is in dire straits.

There are constant laments over how poorly the U.S. fares by international standards, its failure to produce literate students and its unsightly levels of racial segregation. There's a massive debate over how to overcome these problems, but there's no doubt that at least one factor would help: more money. 

But where would the money come from? America's broken and bloated prison system might be a good start.

Keeping someone alive in prison is expensive — much more so than educating them. The GIF below uses data from the Vera Institute of Justice's 2012 "Price of Prisons" report and 2012 U.S. Census data on public school costs. (Several states did not complete the survey, and thus are missing from this chart.) You can see that average resources devoted to prisoners annually easily outpace resources for students:

Click to read more ...

The Revolution of Recovery Leadership

By Anthony Tinsman

Ex-offender, CIT, and founder of PARfessionals, ICBRP and the NCPRP, Jorea Hardison has taken the politics out of recovery treatment. Supported by the SJM Family Foundation, Inc., Hardison's mission is to equip recovery professionals with an invaluable credential needed to provide services in a behavioral health or treatment setting: the National Certified Peer Recovery Professional (NCPRP) credential. Uniquely, prisoners are not excluded and may receive a special qualification, Correctional Peer To Peer Coach. Imprisoned candidates receive a grant at the time of the exam registration giving them access to a diverse group of professionals, training and support. The NCPRP Candidate Handbook (2014) advises all potential coaches "as you work through the application process, it is our hope that you consider the qualitative impact you will have."

There is need for qualitative impact. 25% of jail inmates have been treated at some point for mental or emotional problems (1), which frames the rampant drug and alcohol abuse issues that go unattended during incarceration. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) reported in 2013 that 24.6 million Americans age 12 and older are illicit drug users (2). Mass-incarceration and the war on drugs almost guarantees them a run-in with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the most effective testaments are in short supply. The high turnover rates in the mental health sector compound the problem. In 2009, research showed 55% of U.S. counties did not have ANY practicing behavioral mental health workers (3). None of this bodes well for prisoners, many of whom have well-established conditions prior to entering prison. Recovery alternatives, like a crowded island, casts off the most vulnerable who are in need.

Any practical solutions? There are several. It is worth looking into Mrs. Hardison's background to understand. Her dedication to peer-to-peer counseling was obvious even while she served time in FCI- Danbury. She instituted an ACE (American Council on Education accredited course) program in Non-Profit Management and Grantsmanship, utilizing training material provided by the National Social Rehabilitation & Re-entry Program (once offered by the SJM Family Foundation). "The program [was] good for someone who doesn't know about nonprofits or grants and doesn't have access to the internet," she explains. It offered prisoner-participants an opportunity to ... a) volunteer and give back to the community, b) expand on what they learned by taking an entry level job at a nonprofit, and c) contribute their education through formal enrollment." This type of commitment, the commitment to design and facilitate programs among your peers is key to any discussion about practical solutions to recovery treatment inside or outside of prisons.

Experience with my own re-entry program, Take a Load Off (TLO), makes this fact personal. Usually the candidates who volunteer to facilitate the courses are in need of more training than I can provide. It's a human thing, but the willingness of these prisoners proves there is a base for training to occur (4). The PARfessionals inmate survey concluded in 2014 identified a diverse body of candidates inside the industrial prison system, both state and federal. This doesn't fit the stereotype of violence and menace of prison life. As San Francisco Chronicle editor Peter Sussman wrote, "Nobility and pathos also characterize many prisoners, traits that are familiar to many lawyers, teachers, pastors, and social workers who have spent time in these remote institutions." (5) Armed with training and support, these prisoners could make a real difference.

Mrs. Hardison used her own advice and founded not one but THREE organizations after release. Each coordinates with and supports the other. This amazing story is worthy of broader press coverage, but in summary, her work and partnerships with mental health treatment professionals, SJM Family Foundation, Neurology Research Consultants, Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), and Credly, as well as integrating the goals of the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative (SAMHSA, 2012), ensures that a serious, credible solution exists to curb the shortage of peer-to-peer behavioral health workers. Prisoners can participate to help fellow inmates, then continue their certification after release. It is a great opportunity and a new start.

Several factors have increased the demand for behavior mental health services, such as the Affordable Care Act, state re-entry initiatives, and the substance abuse rehabilitation industry. Prisoners can contact Allee R. Simmons Jacobs-M'Namee, President, The SJM Group, and request information about the NCPRP Candidate Handbook. Just include a SASE (6).  It is a potential career for many ex-offenders willing to open themselves up to change. The potential national impacts are stunning as well. But "impact" takes on a whole new meaning after one look at Mrs. Hardison and her accomplishments, no doubt she is the most recent ex-offender to break through dual stereotypes:  ex-offender, and mental health consumer.   



(1) Bureau Of Justice Statistics

(2, 3) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey of Drug use and health: Summary of National Findings. NSDUH Series H-48. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD., Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, 2014.

(4) American Prison Writing Archive,, Take a Load Off. Incarcerated Voices, The Free Form Radio Initiative, Scott McWilliams, Director,

(5) Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, Media In Prisons, Ed. Marc Maur and Meda Chesney-Lind (New Press, 2002)

(6) SJM Group, PO BOX 155601, Ft Worth, TX., 76155 (972)-636-5257,, National Certified Peer Recovery Candidate Handbook (2014).


Submit stories, suggestions or comments to: Mr. O (Attn: Letters) 649 N. Rupple Rd., Fayetteville, AR, 72704.


Author:  Anthony Tinsman

Author:  Anthony Tinsman

Rehabilitation Program Pairs Prisoners With Horses: "It's Life Changing."

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

American prisoners and wild mustangs roaming the Arizona dessert have a lot in common. The most obvious mutual denominator inmates and these untamed beasts share is there are too many of them. There are about five prison programs in the U.S. that bring prisoners and horses together to tame each other and ultimately lower the wild horse populace and out of control prison population.

Over 2 million people in this country are locked-up behind bars --- the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Last count as of February 2013, 40,605 wild horses and burros roam the dessert plains once considered “the wild west.”

Both prisoners and wild horses can be tamed and learn new behaviors that can potentially change their lives.  

Arizona State prison in Florence, Arizona has over a dozen inmates taking part in the horse training program. The prisoners and the mustangs evolve from wild to tame --- step by step, doing the same thing over and over. The horse makes a wrong choice--- the inmate corrects him.

The philosophy behind horse training is wrong thing hard --- right thing easy. The wild horse does the wrong thing, the right thing is going to be easier. The prisoner makes a poor choice, takes the wrong action, the right thing is going to be easier. Both man and equine learn from repetition. Prisoners transform themselves while training the horses.

Both horses and inmates have a willful past and are working towards a hopeful future.

Taking something totally untouched and taming it can be a reformative process. If inmates can teach horses to change their behavior, they can teach themselves, too.

Lack of completion is another issue untamed prisoners and horses have in common and can resolve through the program. Each inmate is assigned the horse they will be working with throughout the entire four month program. The horses are trained on a one on one basis, partnered with an inmate committed to the horse from the beginning to the end, when the horse is adopted. The impact of bonding with an animal provides prisoners with a permanent sense of achievement.

Miraculously, the program is so life altering for some of the inmates scheduled to be released that they relinquish their release date to work with their horse longer. Once released, only 15% of the inmates that participate in the rehabilitative program across the country return to prison. Subsequently, the program helps to keep the prison population down.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) runs a program that makes an effort to keep the wild mustang population from spiraling out of control. After 1971 when congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the (BLM) became responsible for monitoring the emerging wild herd population.  

Managing over 40,000 horses is an expensive challenge. The BLM manages the horses by rounding them up, auctioning them off or adopting them out to ranchers, families, and government agencies, such as the US Border Patrol. The horses need to be trained before they are eligible for adoption.

The program revolves full circle because turning the horses over to the inmates for training is the perfect solution for not only saving money, but it is also rehabilitating for both the wild horses and the untamed prisoners.

The adoption fee of $2,800 is turned back over to managing the prison programs, the lives of both the inmates and horses become more productive, the prison and wild horse population is lowered, and the prisoners and horses are rehabilitated. Everyone benefits from pairing prisoners with wild horses.