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Crime Blog on the Huffington Post

Friday
Dec192014

Cornell Prison Education Program Gives Auburn Inmates New Hope

By Lauren Mazzo and Emily Hull / Just Ithaca

For many modern-day high school students, graduating with a college-level degree is simply the next logical step in life; but for the 15 students of Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) who will graduate on Dec. 10, it means a better chance at a jail-free future.

CPEP is one of at least eight college-level prison education programs in prisons in New York State that grant degrees to inmates. In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to fund and launch 10 more in-state programs following a 2013 study that shows participation in inmate education programs reduced recidivism – to re-offend and return to prison after being released – by 43 percent.

“It’s really scary the rate at which prisoners who are released end up back in prison,” Tom Owens, faculty director for CPEP, said. “That tells us that we’re not doing something as well as we should.”

The study, funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, found that of the approximately 700,000 individuals released yearly from federal and state prisons, about 67 percent will be reincarcerated, and about half of them within three years.

Cuomo said this is the motivation behind funding the programs, which will cost about $5,000 yearly per inmate, compared to the $60,000 yearly cost for housing a prisoner.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec182014

Christopher Zoukis Discusses Education & Recividism with Toronto's AM640

On Friday, Dec. 5 Christopher Zoukis discussed the benefits of education for prisoners and its direct effects on reducing recividism with Canadian radio station Toronto AM 640.

Listen to the Interview or view the Transcript below.

 

Christopher Zoukis is an expert in the field of correctional education, he’s been incarcerated for the past eight years in Virginia, he’s an advocate, an active advocate for prison education, a noted legal commentator and practitioner, and author of several books including his most recent one called, “College for Convicts”. It examines how recidivisms drops when those convicted are afforded the opportunity to educate themselves, and Christopher Zoukis is on the line and joins us here this afternoon on Talk Radio in Toronto AM640.

Jeff McArthur: “Chris, how are you sir?”

Chris Zoukis: “I’m very good, and you?”

JM: “I’m okay, thanks for joining us and I have to admit off the top, this is a first for me. 20 years of broadcasting and we’re doing an interview live from jail today.”

CZ: “Live from the Federal Bureau of prisons.”

JM: “Can you give us kind of an idea of what a day in the life is like for you?” You’re in medium security? Correct?”

CZ:: “I am. I’m in medium security. My mornings usually start around 6 in the morning when they call chow and ah from that point Monday through Friday I usually work out until 10ish. Um and then they really revolve around the meals and around work. (background automatic female voice “You are calling a federal prison”) Um lots of time in my cell, lots of time reading and writing. “

JM: “What was that in the middle?”

CZ: “They do that twice in each phone call. It’s just to remind you that in fact you are talking to a federal prisoner.”

JM: “And is this conversation likely being monitored right now?”

CZ: “It certainly is.”

JM: “Alright and you’re a big promoter of, as I mentioned in the intro of education. Ah how did you get involved in this? Did it kind of provide a salvation for you, for your time in prison?”

CZ:  “You know it really did. When I came to prison. First of all when I came to prison I was a senior in high school. Um so I actually didn't graduate high school.  Um but when I came to prison I earned a GED. Ah and I wanted to continue my education so I ended up finishing my high school diploma through a correspondence program. Well after that I wanted to go to college, but there weren’t any resources around. I didn’t know of any programs that were available. There certainly wasn’t any funding for anything so I started digging and with support of my family I was able to compile a mini research library of a correspondence catalogues and through that I was able to start taking baby steps and I first took a paralegal course and as the years went on I took other courses. I took some theoriological courses and now I’m in college through correspondence.”

JM: “Well, you know I was jokingly going to say I hope you studied the law so you could find a way to get out of there but….”

CZ: “That is the first thing I started on. I really learned how to read. I read a little bit on the street but I wasn’t a big fan of it. I really got into the habit of reading by doing legal work.”

JM: “Ok, so is. From that have you developed a love for the law in a strange way? Or has that kind of been a jumping off point into other studies?

CZ: “ I think it’s been a jumping off point, but I think the law is what, for prisoners is what confines us and what dictates our lives. And it’s also what frees us too. So I think that the law is something that all prisoners can have a significant interest in but not necessarily rule our time.”

JM: “Right. So do you think most prisoners if they do get hooked on education, and is as you suggested a great thing for them. Is that what they naturally gravitate to, first and foremost?

CZ: “I think once a prisoner gets a taste of education they want to continue it, but often there aren’t any opportunities so they get frustrated and then they stop. So, for example a lot of students here. They earn their GED and they want to continue on with something more but there’s nothing there. There’s no money to go any place. There’s no person here to help them figure out what they options are. I think for the people who actually dig into it a bit and actually figure out about correspondences and if they get a passion for something and I think that they have so much time on their hands that they’re willing to put in the time and effort to see it through.”

JM: “ Joined on the line by Christopher Zoukis, his book is called “College for Convicts”, he joins us live this afternoon from FCC Petersburgh a medium security prison in Virginia

“And Chris, what is it about education that, and I know you’ve examined this, those that have been convicted they are less likely to reoffend if they take the opportunity to educate themselves behind bars. Why is that? Does education give them or provide them hope?”

CZ: “Absolutely! Now, when we look at the research we see that with each additional level of education obtained the recidivism rate goes down accordingly. So for example, prisoners who have some high school tend to at a recidivism rate of 54.6 %. Once they have quality vocational training that number drops to about 30 %, with an associates degree 13.7 %, with a bachelor’s degree 5.6% and out of Hudson Link which is a great program out of New York they show a 0% recidivism rate for anyone who earns a master’s degree. The proof is the pudding. There are hundreds of studies dating back to 1930 that all agree that education reduces recidivism. No one disagrees with this.”

JM: “So does it kind of come back to if you see jail/prison as punishment or rehabilitation or maybe a combination of both. And do you find, I guess do you find, particularly in the American system, since you’re the one you’re incarcerated in. Is there too much emphasis on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation?”

CZ: “Absolutely! I think that victims of crime have a right to be angry. That people have committed crimes against them. They’re completely justified in that and people who violate the law should be punished. On the other hand once they are punished. Going to prison is a punishment. It's not the start of the punishment. But once they’re in prison we need to provide people with the tools to succeed. Most people in the American prison/complex all the different systems. They tend to have the education of less than 6th grade. What can a sixth grader do? What kind of person who’s 30 – 40 years old who has a sixth grade reading level and mathematic skills, do? Nothing. So what do they do? They go out they sell drugs. They commit petty crimes. They just don’t know better. And once they get incarcerated we need to give them the tools they need to succeed in the future. They need an education. They need a GED to start with. Then they need some kind of training so when they get out they have a marketable skill. That way they can support themselves and they can support their families.

JM: “So I guess there’s, I don’t know a public education campaign if you will that, a battle for the hearts and minds on the outside that think that these prisoners just deserve to be punished. But what about those on the inside, Chris? And did you talk to your fellow inmates and tried to convince them that education is the way, the path to a better life? What’s their reaction?”

CZ: “You know most of them already know it. They come to me because they want to know. They don’t come to me because they don’t know if they should educate themselves. They come to me because they want to know how. Now the bureau of justice statistics says that between 95 and 97 % of all American prisoners will one day be released. That means that there’s around 650,000 people a year being released from custody. Of those 67 – 80 % are re-arrested within 3 – 5 years. The system is failing. People want their future neighbors to be successful, to not commit crimes against them. They need to teach them something. They need to educate them. So people in prison, know education is their path and their key they just don’t have a way a mechanism of obtaining it.

JM: “For those who aren’t convinced, I think it’s a pretty easy argument you can make that this is a great savings for tax payers. Invest in convicts now, they are less likely as you say to reoffend and they won’t be a burden on the system or society and costing taxpayers. As a matter of fact they might become productive members of society and tax payers.”

CZ: “You know absolutely. It costs 30 around $25 – 55,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner depending upon what system their in. It costs around $1,400 a year to incarcerate them. I mean correctional education is easily two times as cost effective as incarceration. The United States spends 70 billion dollars a year on their prisons. It’s ridiculous! That’s money that should be going to community colleges. They should be paying more into programs. There are people in our country and in Canada who need help. I mean this is just money that we’re taking away from the social support programs that people rely on.

JM: “So finally Chris, how much longer have you got left on your prison term?”

CZ: “I have four more years.”

JM: “Alright, and after that four years what do you hope to do?

CZ: “I would like open a consulting group which helps people who are getting ready to go into prison. Prepare them for prison. And once they’re in prison help them to get through the trouble spots. And on the tail end, when they get ready to get out, help them figure out how to get their life back together. I mean no one has experience in these things you know. No white collar criminal says ‘Oh well I’m ready to prison..” And on the flip side people who don’t have a whole lot of experience being successful outside of prison. They don’t know how to be successful, they don’t how to get back into society. I want to find a way to help people on both ends of the spectrum.”

JM: “Well listen, I think it’s a good thing for the convicts, a good thing for society as a whole there’s no sense just punishing people and not rehabilitating them as well. Interesting discussion. Again the book is called “College for Convicts”,  Christopher Zoukis. Chris, thanks so much, I really appreciate you joining us.”

CZ: “Well, thank you for having me.”

Wednesday
Dec172014

How Prison Education Can Save Taxpayers Money

By Chloe Della Costa 

U.S. college programs for incarcerated students were largely defunded in the ’90s. At the time, this was seemingly great news for “tough on crime” advocates, but this year, a new debate has erupted out of New York state. In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed an initiative to both educate New York’s prison population and save taxpayers money. It costs $60,000 per year to house an inmate in prison, and it costs an estimated $5,000 per year to provide higher education. “Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back,” explained Cuomo. With the country’s high rates of recidivism, solutions that reduce that rate are the best method for reducing overall costs.

The common argument against prison education is that while law-abiding college students are struggling, taxpayers don’t see the fairness in paying to educate criminals. However, prison experts argue that public-funded prison education programs actually stand to save taxpayers money. Gerald Gaes, who served as an expert on college programs for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the 1990s, says the key is reducing the number of inmates who break the law and wind up back in expensive prison cells.

A 2013 joint study by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice also found that prisoners who participated in education programs, such as GED education, college courses, and other types of training, were less likely to return to prison after their release. The study, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education,” was the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, and the findings indicate that prison education programs are cost effective. According to the research, a $1 investment in prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an inmate’s release.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec162014

Prison Education News Founder Under Fire: Federal Bureau of Prisons Attacks Christopher Zoukis

By Randy Radic  Christopher Zoukis

We at Prison Education News are concerned regarding several recent events at FCI Petersburg, the medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia where PrisonEducation.com  founder Christopher Zoukis is incarcerated. Due to the importance of this matter, we've decided to go public and share what has transpired in the past two months. We do so in the hope that public scrutiny will force FCI Petersburg to reverse its present course.

The History: Attacking Prison Writers 

In 2012, FCI Petersburg officials, led by SIS Technician P. Vaughan, launched a series of incident reports against Christopher Zoukis for allegedly conducting a business. The alleged business was the free Education Behind Bars Newsletter that Mr. Zoukis edited. As a result of being convicted of these three incident reports, he was sanctioned to five months of solitary confinement and the loss of good conduct time, along with email, telephone, and commissary privileges. After a protracted battle between attorneys Alan Ellis and Todd Bussert and Federal Bureau of Prisons' counsel, Mr. Zoukis prevailed. All of the adverse disciplinary findings were overturned, he was released from the FCI Petersburg Special Housing Unit, and his record was cleared. All of this is described in detail in Mr. Zoukis' article "Prisons Within Prisons: An Interview with Prison Law Expert Christopher Zoukis".

The Present: The Censoring of Christopher Zoukis

On October 10 and 17, 2014, Mr. Zoukis received two incident reports for allegedly conducting a business.* In the first instance, it is alleged that merely writing uncompensated articles for The Huffington Post and inquiring about the number of Likes and Tweets that they receive constitutes business activity. In the second incident report, FCI Petersburg officials allege that a letter that Mr. Zoukis mailed out constituted a second business. This letter was to the author of an out-of-print prison preparation guide in which he expressed a desire to update the text and publish it online so that soon-to-be prisoners and their families could read it for free.

Each incident report was adjudicated by Mr. Zoukis' Unit Disciplinary Committee (UDC) on the next business day (a very quick turn-around). Unit Manager Angela Tomlinson was the chairperson for both UDC hearings, and Correctional Counselor Felecia Brown was a UDC member for the first hearing. At both hearings Mr. Zoukis was not permitted to call any witnesses, present any documentary evidence of his innocence, or make a statement in his defense. He was convicted on both incident reports and sanctioned to 90 days loss of visitation, email and commissary.

The Story Behind The Incident Reports

The story behind these incident reports is fairly straightforward. Whenever Mr. Zoukis comes out with a new book, FCI Petersburg actors issue incident reports in a knee-jerk reaction which is intended to quickly censor and dissuade him from publishing his writings. This occurred in 2012 on the heels of the publication of his first book, Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012), and again in October of 2014, within weeks of the publication of his second book, College for Convicts: The  Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). Clearly these actions by FCI Petersburg staff are retaliatory in nature. 

Over the past 5 years there has been a lot of friction between Mr. Zoukis and FCI Petersburg staff. This all started with Federal Bureau of Prisons' staff being unaware of the law as it pertains to incarcerated writers, making several missteps because of it, and then in a bullish manner continuing on in their uninformed pursuit. The disagreement and antagonism have become continually more severe as time has progressed and the issues have spilled over into the public forum. As it currently stands, both parties are digging in for an all-out war. Mr. Zoukis has retained Alan Ellis, Todd Bussert, and Steven Rosenfield to apply pressure and litigate against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  FCI Petersburg has backed their officers in their actions and started to retaliate against Mr. Zoukis in instances of daily life. For example, following the publication of College for Convicts, SIS Technicians P. Vaughan and A. Holderfield seized all inbound copies, suggesting that Mr. Zoukis "might try to sell them" at the prison. After an aggressive campaign against this censorship, senior officials at FCI Petersburg allowed Mr. Zoukis to autograph five copies and mail them out, and retain the remainder of the seized copies.

Prison Education News' Position

It is the official position of Prison Education News that Christopher Zoukis has done nothing inconsistent with Federal Bureau of Prisons' disciplinary regulations or those contained in the Code of Federal Regulations. We feel these new incident reports, much like the ones issued in 2012 (which were eventually expunged), are retaliatory in nature and we have faith that they too will be expunged during the appellate process, which is currently in process.

While no one knows what turns this story might take, we at Prison Education News stand firmly behind Mr. Zoukis and the First Amendment. 

Note: If anyone would like to reach out to Christopher Zoukis with words of support or interview requests, they can do so by writing to him at the following address:

Christopher Zoukis

FCI Petersburg

P.O. Box 1000

#22132-058

Petersburg, VA 23804

Monday
Dec152014

A Success Story: Justin L. Donohue

By Justin L. Donohue  Image courtesy zimbio.com

I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate these messages (Prison News Service). I have learned so much since I started reading them. I also wanted you to know that as of last Friday, I am one of 12 inmates that were able to graduate mid-year from the Milan High School Program in Milan Federal Correctional Institution. Milan is the only Federal prison to have a High School Graduation program in the country and I think it would be really awesome if maybe you guys were able to give some kind of acknowledgement to Milan FCI for having the only High School Graduation program. It has been here for many, many years and I have no clue why more Federal Prison do not have this program.

The BOP forces us to get our GED if we do not have it, but Milan FCI gives you an opportunity to actually receive your true High School Diploma. I had dropped out of high school and joined the army. After the army I got into trouble and ended up in prison. Many people over the last 15 years have asked me time and time again, "You mean, you don't have your diploma?" Like it was a big shock. I was so tired of hearing that because I knew that it would have been so easy for me to receive my diploma and I just didn't do it.

Now that I have a son, I thought that it was probably a really good idea not to have a message for him that you can just quit doing things because they are inconvenient for you... so I buckled down and, with the help of the amazing MHS staff contracted here at Milan FCI, I was able to get enough credits to get my actual High School Diploma. It's an amazing feeling and it's open to everybody no matter what your story, background, or education.

Sincerely,

Justin L. Donohue

Friday
Dec122014

How Education Can Break the Prison Cycle

Thursday
Dec112014

A Case for Prison Education