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Georgia Pushes To Help Prisoners Complete Education

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By John Lorinc

State officials have launched a new program that helps people behind bars get back behind the school desk.  

The Georgia Department of Corrections has joined forces with Mountain Education Charter School.

The goal is to get state prisoners a high school diploma or GED.

“We believe that we can create better opportunities in life as well as lower Georgia’s recidivism rates, by improving the education levels of inmates while they are in our custody,” says Dr. L.C. “Buster” Evans, the assistant commissioner of Education for the Department of Corrections.

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America's Prisons: A Road to Nowhere

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By Ben Notterman / Huffington Post

Video of Henry McCollum's release shows the exonerated death row inmate making his way through a crowd of excited onlookers and into his family's car, where he could not figure out how to fasten his seatbelt. In his defense, many states did not begin mandating the use of seatbelts until well into the 1990s, by which time McCollum had already spent a decade in prison. Like most of the 650,000 inmates released from prison each year, McCollum brings no vocational skills or educational background into a world that must appear to him a strange and distant future, thrust on an unsuspecting present. From this perspective, the severity of punishment is never greater than at the time of release.

Finding employment and independence after leaving prison is extremely difficult; without a decent education, it is virtually impossible. Access to academic and occupational programming in American prisons has declined significantly over the past twenty years, while overall spending on corrections has exploded along with the country's prison population. Inmates are twice as likely to lack a high school education as the rest of us. Meanwhile, job skills are more quickly rendered obsolete by accelerating technological development, and education level is more determinative of income than ever before. As a result, a sentence of, say, three years - the average doled out for drug possession - probably does more to undermine one's employability than it would have in past decades, particularly as most prisons forbid access to computers and other staples of modern communication. Unable to secure income or sense of purpose, over 65% of inmates re-offend within three years, all but guaranteeing that our prison population remains many times larger than that of other nations of world. The financial impact has been immense. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, incarceration cost the public $75 billion in 2008.

Congress could take a major step toward reducing recidivism--and therefor mass incarceration--by once again allowing inmates to receive Pell Grants, the federal government's need-based financial assistance program for post-secondary education. Inmates were made ineligible for Pell Grants in 1994 at the height of "tough-on-crime" politics, by a relatively obscure provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. As most inmates quickly became unable to pay tuition fees, many of the college-level programs available to them disintegrated. Terminating inmate eligibility immediately reduced participation in correctional education programs by nearly one half.

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Private Prisons


School to Prison Pipeline


In Kenyan Prison, Education May Mean Freedom 

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By Jeri Watson / VOA News

Eighteen people in central Kenya are taking the country’s secondary education test, called the KNEC. Even under normal conditions, this examination can make a student nervous. But these 18 students may feel especially fearfulThey are serving sentences in a top-security prison. And if they do well on the test, they might get to leave the prison.

During the test the inmates sit at school desks at Naivasha Prison. These prisoners have writing tools and plastic devices used in mathematics. The classroom looks like any other except that the students are wearing prison uniforms.

David Noah Okwemba has just finished the examination for history and biology.  He says he wants people to know that the prisoners are no longer criminalsInstead, he says they are students.

Prisoners who perform well can have their sentences amended. They may be released early to go to university or find employment.

Patrick Mwenda is head officer at Naivasha prison. He says Naivasha works with the high courts to consider the cases of prisoners who get high marks.

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Fort Bend to Offer Vocational Education to Some Inmates

By Rebecca Elliott / Houston Chronicle  Image courtesy

Bags of chips, pairs of tennis shoes, packages of Ramen noodles. Over the years, revenue from purchases made by inmates at the Fort Bend County jail's commissary have added up.

Now, the proceeds are financing an expanded correctional education program, complete with a new vocational training facility. Come January, the center, which cost an estimated $67,000, will house the jail's first course on heating, ventilating and air conditioning, or HVAC, taught by an instructor from the community college.

The class is the latest addition to the jail's education program - new GED and computer courses are already up and running - and it sets Fort Bend on a path to providing inmates with the kinds of educational opportunities often found in state prisons but less common in local jails, where populations are smaller and inmate sentences generally shorter.

"I think it's actually quite pioneering," said Debbie Mukamal, executive director of Stanford's Criminal Justice Center. It's not especially common, she explained, for county jails to partner with community colleges to offer long-term vocational training.

Although Texas' prisons are served by their own school district, jails such as Fort Bend's must plan and arrange funding for classes. Most research on correctional education is also prison-specific, leaving jails with few models.

At Fort Bend's detention center, which houses pre-trial inmates and those serving shorter sentences or awaiting transport to prison, correctional education is primarily funded by proceeds from the commissary, which sells convenience store items to inmates.

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Prison Author Under Fire: Federal Bureau of Prisons Retaliates Against Christopher Zoukis

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Over the past month Federal Bureau of Prison officials at the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg have issued incarcerated author Christopher Zoukis a series of incident reports in a seeming attempt to censor his critique of the prison system.  All of these disciplinary actions came on the heels of the release of his latest book – College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland, 2014) – in what some are calling systematic retaliation.

The allegations have all come in the vein of him allegedly conducting a business.  The incident reports were all issued by members of the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg’s Special Investigative Advisor Department, the investigatory component of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Specifically, they were issued by department head SIA J. Negron and co-worker SIS technician A. Holderfield. 

The allegations at hand are that Mr. Zoukis is allegedly operating three distinct businesses:

  • Publishing uncompensated articles on a popular news media blog and inquiring about their number of Facebook likes.
  • Sending a single letter in which he attempted to obtain the rights to an out of print prison preparation manual, in an effort to update it and publicize it online for free, so that it could continue to help soon to be free prisoners and their families.
  • Having a personal bank account outside of prison and asking a friend to use funds from it to obtain his credit report in an effort to prepare for his release.

Many of Mr. Zoukis’ supporters are viewing the current disciplinary actions as a continuation of those that occurred two years ago.  In 2012, the same SIS department led a campaign of retaliation against Mr. Zoukis following the release of his first book Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012). Then, three separate incident reports – all of which concerned alleged business activity – were issued and Mr. Zoukis was remanded to solitary confinement for five months.  SIS technician P. Vaughan led the effort at the time.  After months of appeals, which were coordinated by attorneys, Alan Ellis and Todd Bussert, all of the incident reports were overturned and Mr. Zoukis’ record was expunged.

As it currently stands, Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg actors – namely Unit Manager Angela Tomlinson – have held two disciplinary proceedings in which Mr. Zoukis was not permitted to call any witnesses, present any evidence, or even make a statement on his own behalf.  He was summarily sanctioned to the loss of visitation, email and commissary.  This week it is anticipated that Mr. Zoukis will be seen by his Unit Disciplinary Committee and the case will be referred to Disciplinary Hearing Officer W. Bennet. Zoukis is hopeful the outcome will not include confinement to the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg Special Housing Unit.


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