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:

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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.

California Can End School to Prison Pipeline

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By Gloria Romero and Rishawn Biddle / Sacramento Bee

As the nation focuses on the state of the union and how we make ourselves a better nation, one fact is inexplicably never addressed: If we are to get people back to work, we need to not only have jobs available but trained workers available to take those jobs.

Unfortunately, too many policymakers have failed to draw the incontrovertible link education plays in fostering the school-to-prison and welfare pipeline. The United States spends $228 billion on criminal justice because we badly spend $595 billion on our abysmal schools. In California, 70 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

We need to alter the discourse and directly address how both our public education and criminal justice systems affect poor and minority youths.

This is the fifth National School Choice Week. With more than 11,000 events across the country, it provides parents and supporters a chance to highlight how all forms of choice – charter schools, online learning, home schools, private schools and others – improve a child’s education and ultimately their future.

Too many traditional public schools funnel too many children into our criminal justice system, accounting for 3 of every 10 cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011 – the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement. Yet juvenile court judges are ill-equipped to deal with matters that should be handled by schools.

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Prisoner Visitation and Support: A Unique Ministry

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Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) is the only nationwide, interfaith visitation program with access to all federal and military prisons and prisoners in the United States.  Sponsored by 35 national religious bodies and socially-concerned agencies (consisting of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and secular organizations), PVS seeks to meet the needs of prisoners through an alternative ministry that is separate from official prison structures.

PVS was founded in 1968 by Bob Horton, a retired Methodist minister, and Fay Honey Knopp, a Quaker activist, to visit imprisoned conscientious objectors. Prior to that, Bob Horton had been visiting prisoners since 1941 and Fay Honey Knopp had been visiting prisoners since 1955.

In its first five years of service, PVS volunteers visited over 2,000 conscientious objectors.  PVS was encouraged by the war resisters to visit other prisoners and, today, PVS visits any federal or military prisoner wanting a visit.

Today, PVS has 300 volunteers who visit at more than 90 federal and military prisons across the country.  The visitors make monthly visits to see prisoners who rarely, if ever, receive outside visits.  PVS visitors also focus on seeing those prisoners with an acute need for human contact:  those serving long sentences, those frequently transferred from prison to prison, and those in solitary confinement and on death row, including ADX Florence, CO, and USP Lewisburg, PA, the two most secure prisons in the U.S.  No other group has this access.

PVS is very selective in appointing local volunteer visitors, who are appointed only after a personal interview with one of the two PVS visitor recruiters.  Visitor training is provided by ongoing contact with the PVS national office, a PVS training manual, a PVS video, and an annual workshop.  PVS visitors must:

·        Be able to visit regularly, at least once a month.

·        Be good listeners, who reach out to prisoners in a spirit of mutual respect, trust and acceptance.

·        Be aware not to impose their religious or philosophical beliefs on prisoners. 

A prisoner at the federal prison camp in Danbury, CT made the following comment after receiving a PVS visit:  “I feel like I’m not in prison.  I feel normal when I talk to my PVS visitor.  I feel I could become part of the community, again.”  This remark comes from one of the many prisoners and visitors who are featured in a 20 minute video, now available, about the PVS program.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, says, “PVS does good work and I should know that.  I had the privilege of addressing the PVS visitors at their annual training workshop in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1994.”

Since PVS does not seek or receive any government money, so as to be independent of the prison system, it is dependent upon donations, which are tax-deductible, from individuals and congregations.  If you know of anyone who might wish to make a donation to PVS, or who might be interested in becoming a prison visitor, please let PVS know by writing to:

Prisoner Visitation and Support:  1501 Cherry Street; Philadelphia, PA 19102


Phone:  (215) 241-7117; Fax: (215) 241-7227


CFC Donor Code:  10005

Work Programs Bridging Prisons To the Community: A Recipe for Reduced Recidivism

By Christopher Zoukis

Finding a job and somewhere to live are probably the two most critical factors determining whether a released offender will do well, or end up back in prison. In the United States, up to 90% of those who are sent back to prison are unemployed.

In the U.K., the one year recidivism rate for released offenders who find a job and a home is about 40%; for those who find neither it is almost 75%.

Yet finding a job after prison is tough. In Britain only about 40% of released offenders find employment, but some interesting programs may be able to improve that figure.

Work training or slave labor

Working in prison is nothing new. British prisoners used to be known for sewing mailbags. Thankfully things have moved on since then, although as in the U.S., there is criticism that some programs amount to little more than slave labor. At Ranby prison in Nottinghamshire, inmates assemble bulkhead lights for Applied Security Design, a private company, for a little over $10 a week.

A shoe-in for post-prison employment

Other programs, however, offer a realistic route out of prison and into employment. Timpsons is a family-owned shoe-repair chain, and a familiar sight on British high streets. The company has three prison training academies where inmates learn the trade. They then go on to work in the company's three in-prison workshops. British inmates are often given daily work-release during their final year. Those who have trained with Timpsons may be given temporary jobs in the firm's stores during this period, then employed full time once they are released.

Railtrack, which runs Britain’s rail network, trains inmates how to lay track, then offers them permanent jobs when they leave prison.

The company that operates Britain's power distribution network, National Grid, coordinates a scheme involving about eighty firms, through which offenders are trained on day-release, and then employed after their release. Over the past ten years, the recidivism rate amongst those who completed the program has been just 6%; that's 85% lower than the national average.

Clink hospitality

Yet another great example is The Clink Charity, which trains inmates for careers in the hospitality industry. The charity currently operates three training restaurants for prisoners, with a fourth due to open at Styal prison in 2015, and Clink Events, an event catering company. Planned expansion should take the charity to ten training programs by 2017.

Offenders enroll with The Clink train while still in prison or on day-release. Once they leave prison, Clink provides ongoing monitoring and support, and works to find them permanent positions within the industry. A number of well-known and well-connected industry experts act as ambassadors to the program, including celebrated chef Albert Roux and accomplished hotelier and Master Innkeeper Graham Bamford. Clink Ambassadors both mentor the students, and use their network of contacts to boost the program's profile and to find training and career positions for program graduates.

A need for similar programs in the U.S.

Initiatives like these not only provide training for real jobs, but also offer continuity from prison to the outside world, and remove at least some of the uncertainty offenders face when leaving prison. When released prisoners have jobs they are much less likely to return to criminal behaviors, or to be dependent on social services, both major benefits to the wider community.

In 2002 the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center recommended involving the private sector in prison vocational training so that similar schemes could be established in the U.S., but there has been little traction. The potential benefits for offenders, society, and the private sector suggest a win-win-win situation. As America looks for ways to begin reducing the enormous prison population, perhaps now is the time to start implementing similar programs across the U.S.

Books In The Cooler: A Prisoner's Best Friend

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By Christopher Zoukis

The arrival of the mail is the highlight of the day for many prisoners, who crowd around the officer's station hoping their name will be called. The arrival of the monthly Bargain Books catalogue from mail order bookseller Edward R. Hamilton of Falls Village, Connecticut, is an especial cause of celebration.

A cornucopia of literary delights

Each book catalogue details thousands of books, complete with cover illustrations and brief descriptions. A huge variety of subjects are covered, both fiction and non-fiction, broken down by subject and genre. From dictionaries to fine art books, self-help to arts and crafts, teach yourself languages to cookery, romance to science fiction, it's all there - a veritable feast for the mind. Inmates will be lost in their catalogues for hours, with a line of people waiting to see it after them.

Sadly, for most it's just window shopping. Only a lucky few will be able to afford to buy any books from the catalogue, or have a friend or family member outside send them books. Those books that do come in will typically be passed from one inmate to another, before finally being donated to the prison library.

Eclectic and sophisticated tastes

One might expect that the books requested by inmates would be pretty low-brow, or geared towards rather self-serving interests: grisly true-crime exposés, How to Win at Texas Hold. 'Em, the CIA Lockpicker's manual. In fact inmates' tastes are pretty eclectic and often surprisingly sophisticated. Sure, there are plenty of horror and fantasy books, perhaps as avenues to make prison life seem not so bad by comparison, or to escape from it completely. But books which have made their way from inmates to the prison library here at FCI Petersburg include Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man; Ernest Shackelton's South; and Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow; Biographies of Karl Marx, Sir Walter Scott, Gandhi, and Marcus Aurelius; works by Dante, Aristophanes, Plutarch, and Plato; by Hemmingway, Dickens, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Tolstoy and Trollpe. Just the other day I picked up a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, that had been left on the unit mailbox.

The Mexican government subsidizes American prisons

Self-improvement is hugely important for the majority of inmates who are keen to make something positive from the negative prison experience.

Spanish-speaking inmates in Arizona wrote to the Mexican consulates in Phoenix and Tucson, complaining about a lack of Spanish educational books in the state's prisons. In response, the Mexican government contacted the Arizona Department of Corrections to determine which books would be useful. As a result, the Mexican government is donating 1600 textbooks in Spanish to be used across Arizona's prison system. It seems rather shameful that the world’s richest country needs handouts from Mexico to provide educational books for prisoners.

Britain's prison book ban

The British government, in contrast to that of Mexico, has recently taken a less enlightened view, banning British prisoners from receiving books from their families and friends. Previously, small packages, including books, could be sent to prison inmates, but the government has now banned the practice citing insufficient staff to monitor incoming mail for contraband or inappropriate content.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling argues that prisoners have access to books through prison libraries, but brutal cuts to the prison service budget mean that frequently libraries are effectively closed to inmates as there are no staff free to escort them. The cuts have meant that many British prisoners spend up to twenty-three hours a day locked in their cells. The announcement of the ban prompted an open letter to the government from many literary luminaries decrying the move.

e-Book heaven

From time to time rumors surface that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be introducing e-book readers for purchase by inmates, who will then be able to buy e-books in the same way they can now buy music. If true it would be a potential gold mine for the Bureau, and a source of great pleasure for banged-up bibliophiles. Who knows if it's true: rumors are ten a penny in prison. I won't be holding my breath.

But now you must excuse me. I need to get back to my Bargain Books catalogue.

Reforms Reduce Overcrowding and Boost Education at India's Mega-Prison

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By Christopher Zoukis

A short distance from Delhi sits Tihar jail, one of the largest prisons in the world. The ten sub-jails within the prison complex are home to more than 13,500 inmates.

Situated on the plains of northern India, the jail provides few comforts. Inmates bake through the sweltering heat of summer, while winters are cold and damp.

 Tihar holds both sentenced prisoners and those on remand awaiting court proceedings. They are a pretty violent lot. A third of sentenced prisoners and a quarter of those on remand are held on murder charges. More than one in eight are in prison for rape.

Recognizing the importance of rehabilitation, the prison is making substantial improvements to its education programs, aiming to prepare inmates for successful reintegration into society. The reforms are being championed by the Director General of Prisons, Ms. Vimha Mehra.

Most prisoners poorly educated, but more graduates than in U.S. prisons

As elsewhere, the jail's inmates are drawn largely from the country's poor and uneducated. Two thirds have no high school exit qualification. At the time of their admission to the jail a fifth of male inmates and more than a third of females are illiterate.

At the other end of the scale, a few prisoners are highly educated. About 5% of males and 6% of females have graduate degrees, while 1% of males and 3% of females hold postgraduate qualifications.

By way of comparison, the Bureau of Justice statistics reports that in the U.S. about 40% of state prisoners, 27% of federal inmates, and 47% of those in local jails have no high school diploma or GED, compared to 18% of the general population. Almost two and a half percent of state prisoners and 3.2% of jail inmates have a college degree, compared to 8.1% of federal prisoners and 22% of the general population.

Collaborations bring new educational programs

At Tihar jail, prison education programs are already making a difference. The majority of illiterate prisoners are recent arrivals. Those who have been at the jail for some time have made significant progress with their literacy.

Now the jail is collaborating with the National Institute of Open Schooling, and with the Indira Gandhi National Open University to substantially improve the programs available.

Recently introduced courses include stenography, French, German, Spanish, English, and Hindi. An innovative program, run in association with the tourism ministry, trains inmates in hotel management.

Delays in getting cases to court bloat prison populations

In 2011 India had the world's fourth largest prison population, behind the United States, China, and Russia. Despite having a population of 1.2 billion, India's prison population, at 313,600
is just 15% that of the United States.

Indian courts are notoriously slow at trying cases, resulting in defendants being held in prison for years awaiting trial. Across the country these remand prisoners account for two thirds of the prison population. In 2012, more than 23,000 remand prisoners had already been waiting more than two years for their case to go to trial. Almost 16,500 had been waiting for more than three years.

Supreme Court ruling leads to thousands being released

India's Code of Criminal Procedure states that remand prisoners should be released on personal bond if they have been held for half the maximum possible sentence for their offense, but the rule has not been followed. Following a September ruling by India's Supreme Court on the issue, states are now reviewing the files of almost 255,000 remand prisoners, and releasing those who have been held beyond the legal limit. Some, it turns out, have been held on remand longer than the maximum sentence they could have received.

Reviewing the cases is not straightforward, however. At Puzhal remand prison in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, 845 cases were brought for review. Magistrates could come to decisions on just 290 of the cases as no charges had yet been filed on the other two-thirds.

Despite these difficulties, prisoners are now being released in the thousands. Given that remand prisoners make up a majority of the prison population, this should do a lot to ease overcrowding. If education programs like those being introduced at Tihar jail can be rolled out across the country, the remaining prisoners will have a much better chance of making a successful return to society, and never seeing the inside of a prison cell again. Announces Site Improvements

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Innovative Education Can Help Fight Crime in Latin America

By Gabriel Zinny and Diego Gorgal

Latin America is among the most violent regions of the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which each year releases its annual report on violence and the drug trade, has the bad news: with just 8 percent of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for over 30 percent of global violent deaths. The region’s homicide rate—28 murders per 100,000 inhabitants—contrasts with 18 per 100,000 in all of Africa.

Apart from the human tragedies that make up such statistics, high levels of violence create a major barrier to economic development. Insecurity hobbles the creation of social and human capital, weakening efforts to improve education and health, while also threatening much-needed investment. U.N. figures show that the cumulative impact of violence worldwide is as much as 11 percent of global GDP; in Latin America, homicide alone is estimated to shave off over 4 percent of GDP.

Latin America’s imprisoned population is at the center of this crisis. The World Prison Population List, a project of the International Centre for Prison Studies, tracks incarceration around the world. Its most recent report finds that out of the world’s 10 million prisoners, 1.3 million belong to Latin America—a rate of 229 inmates per 100,000 people, far higher than the world average of 144. And over the past two decades, the Latin America’s incarceration rates have ballooned by 120 percent as the drug wars have intensified.

The spike in the prison population has created a policy conundrum for nearly every country: how to improve the “employability” of inmates in order to allow them to reenter the labor force? This challenge, in turn, raises a number of questions about which programs are most effective in bringing inmates back to society, and what role formal and informal education programs can play.

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We Need to Address the School to Prison Pipeline

By Gloria Romero and Rishawn Biddle / Orange County Register

The deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the decisions not to prosecute officers in either case, should jolt reformers into demanding transformation of both our failing public education and criminal justice systems – whose dysfunctions disproportionately affect poor, minority communities.

If we do not educate, we will incarcerate. Some school reformers have embraced the moment; too many have not. For example, a respected American Enterprise Institute reform leader, Rick Hess, tweeted that Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., was “not his beat.”

Likewise, criminal justice reform advocates have talked plenty about ending police brutality but have failed to emphatically tackle the school-to-prison pipeline. This prompted Steve Perry, founder of Capital Prep Magnet School, to plead, “What do I need to do to get y’all to picket a school where no kids can read on grade level, and few could read the picket signs?” He followed that with “It’s so easy to parade, I mean march, in a circle outside of Yale, in a city w[ith] some of the worst schools in the state, but then what?”

Perry is right: What happens in our schools ends up in our streets, and vice versa. The U.S. spends $228 billion badly on criminal justice because we spend $595 billion abysmally on our schools. In California, 70 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

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Prisoners Fighting Fires

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy

The California prison system is stepping up to the plate by fighting fire with fire.  Yes, that’s right --- they are saving tax-payer’s money and providing low level offenders with valuable skills and purpose by putting them to work fighting wildfires. Another side benefit of this ingenious project is California’s prisons are emptying out because these inmates are earning earlier release dates and are not reoffending.

Demetrius Barr is one of the first Los Angeles County inmates to be granted the opportunity to leave his confined jail cell and enter a natural atmosphere of breathtaking landscapes and spacious campsites. Not only can Barr help save this precious land from the destruction of fire, but his own life can be salvaged from the unforgiving world of crack dealing.

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Barr doesn’t get to enjoy this new type of freedom for nothing. He receives this privilege by maintaining his fitness and best behavior, and being willing to fight thousand-degree flames. The best reward for fulfilling his commitment to the Pitches Detention center where he was trained, is earning good-time credits that will permit him to decrease his seven-year sentence by 35%. This would also insure that Barr “has what it takes” when confronted with a challenge as significant as a raging forest fire. 

The general public would be surprised if they realized about 50% of California wildfire fighters are prisoners and a few of them are incarcerated women. Capt. Jorge Santana, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) liaison who supervises the camps, confirms these inmates are dedicated to changing their lives while serving the public and are saving the state over $1 billion a year. Inmate firefighters are contributing a major positive impact on California’s financial and environmental well-being.

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Editorial: Fix the Hidden Costs Behind Prison Labor

Seattle Times Editorial  Image courtesy

KEEPING a thousand sets of otherwise idle prisoners’ hands busy is a fine idea. Make them contribute to their own room and board with jobs that offer a carrot for good behavior. As a bonus, they learn job skills that will pay off once they’re released.

Fine idea. But delivering on that promise requires the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to be a shrewd business manager, and that’s where the state agency has struggled, as a three-part Seattle Times investigative series, Sell Block, described this week.

Instead of getting a self-sustaining Correctional Industries program, taxpayers have been quietly stuck with a program that has cost them at least $20 million since 2007.

The red ink propped up a fish farm that hasn’t produced a meal, and a mattress-recycling operation that put prison managers financially in bed with representatives of the mattress industry and had the state stealing work from a well-meaning private nonprofit.

One outcome of the series should be a greater financial transparency. The DOC aspires to have Correctional Industries be self-sufficient. Prove it, or fix practices.

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New Jersey's Jailhouse Goldmine: A Moral Obligation to Provide Effective Rehabilitation?

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Like most municipalities, Cumberland County in southern New Jersey needs to raise its revenues.  Last year it found a very effective way to do just that: fill up its jail.

Jails as For-Profit Businesses

While most of the developed world see institutions like hospitals, universities and prisons as essential public services, the reality is that they are also businesses.  Patients, students, and prisoners are commodities to be traded.  These men and women are at a vulnerable time in their lives and need the best that the world's richest country can offer them, but instead the institutions charged with their care look to see how they can profit from them.

Cumberland County Jail: Selling Jail Space 

In 2013 Gloucester County officials decided to close their jail.  To the south, Cumberland County Jail's population had fallen by almost two hundred over the preceding five years leaving empty beds.  The two counties agreed to a deal, and the first inmates from Gloucester County arrived at Cumberland County Jail, in Bridgeport, in June 2013.  Today there are usually at least a hundred Gloucester County inmates in Cumberland Jail at any given time.

The deal gives Cumberland County $10,000 a day for the first hundred inmates, then $83 a day for each additional one.  For one hundred Gloucester County inmates, Cumberland County stands to make $3.65 million each year.  Indeed, in the first fourteen months they have billed Gloucester County over $4.3 million.

Cumberland Freeholder Director Joseph Derella sees the program as an example of the county developing much needed new sources of revenue.  He believes the program is exceeding expectations and wants to extend it further.

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Social Failures Trickle Down To Our Prisons

By Jerry Large  Image courtesy

Reading a series of Seattle Times articles about “the empty promises of prison labor” made me think how hard it is to get something good from a system that is, at its core, all about failure on multiple levels — of individuals, of families, of government.

Reporters Michael J. Berens and Mike Baker investigated a prison-labor program that has cost Washington taxpayers millions, hurt small businesses, while helping larger ones, but produced little of what it promised. Their three part-series ran this week.

Washington’s prison system is among the nation’s more progressive systems, but it is still a prison system. I saw a TED talk by Dan Pacholke, the deputy secretary of operations for the state Department of Corrections, and he summed it up pretty well.

Pacholke, who followed his father into corrections work, said prison is the “bucket for failed social policy.”

He knows what he’s talking about. Jails and prisons too often are where we deal with mental illness, chemical dependency, poverty, homelessness. Lock up the person and forget about the problem.

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San Quentin’s Prison University Gives Inmates Freedom to Learn

By Greta Kaul / SF Gate

San Quentin is home to the Prison University Project, the largest on-site college-in-prison program among California state prisons. Inmates in PUP earn their associate’s degree for free, with volunteer instructors from schools like Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Opponents of higher education in prison, like those who voted down a proposal in New York earlier this year, say it’s wrong to give a taxpayer-funded degree to convicts. Some are fine with providing remedial and vocational education, but draw the line at college, a commodity families sacrifice thousands of dollars to give their children.

Advocates see inmate education as a question of helping people stay out of prison once they’re released, and furthermore, of putting communities more at ease about the formerly incarcerated returning to their neighborhoods.

Breaking the cycle

Nothing about Nash, who is from Oakland, would suggest that he killed a person. He spoke of his love of writing, which is why he started at PUP in the first place, and of hobbies, like drawing comic books for kids. At the moment, he was working on one that combined Spongebob Squarepants and football, two of his stepson’s favorite things. He talked about how attending classes had changed his life within San Quentin’s walls and his hopes for the future.

“Being in the class takes me away from just our regular yard associations, so I’m out in the yard with people I wouldn’t have met” if not for class, Nash said. “We had a debate out there last night about how certain presidents have helped or hindered the progress of America.”

Nearly two-thirds of California’s released felons end up back behind bars within three years, according to 2012 data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates who participated in college programs were about half as likely to land back in prison than those who did not, a 2013 study in the Journal of Criminal Justice found.

The higher the level of education a person attains, the less likely they are to go back to prison, studies find. Even if they do return, advocates point out that inmates who receive academic or vocational education cost the system up to $9,700 less, a Rand Corp. study found.

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School v. Prisons: Education's The Way to Cut the Prison Population

By Deborah Stipek and Kathryn Hanson

Victor Hugo's 19th century remark, "He who opens a college door closes a prison," still holds true these days.

The connection among education and incarceration was made starkly clear at Stanford's 2014 Cubberley Lecture, exactly where actress Anna Deveare Smith brought to life the difficulties facing disadvantaged youth in American schools by way of a series of humorous, gritty and brutally honest monologues.

Deveare Smith, acclaimed for her roles on TV shows like The West Wing and Nurse Jackie, is known for bringing academic rigor to her theatrical creations. In portraying the sobering reality of disadvantaged youth caught in the school-to-prison pipeline, Deveare Smith challenged us to improvement.

The link between a poor education and incarceration is borne out in data. Dropouts are three times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. Nationally, 68% of all males in prison do not have a college diploma. Only 20 percent of California inmates demonstrate a fundamental level of literacy, and the typical offender reads at an eighth grade level.

A lot of so-called dropouts who finish up in jail are truly push-outs. Under the guise of zero tolerance, initiated after Columbine, students are usually asked to leave school as an initial response rather than a last resort. Discriminatory practices are popular.

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Weber: The Promise of Education

By Eric Thomas Weber

In the dozen years that I have been teaching, two moments stand out as the most gripping experiences I have had in my classes. With a group of freshmen sitting by the Honors College fountain at the University of Mississippi, we once talked about philosopher John Lachs's book, In Love with Life.

Lachs explains some ways of thinking that are instrumental for living a happy life. We so often focus on things we cannot change in the past, or we worry intensely about the future, forgetting to live in and enjoy the present, he explains.

Just when we had gone over one of Lachs's beautiful passages covering that insight, thin and golden autumn leaves from a tree overhead began to fall slowly all around us, flipping as they descended, as if they wanted to be noticed. I could not have dreamt of a more beautiful illustration of the joy we can find in appreciating the present.

The next teaching moment that stands out most profoundly for me took place in a very different and unlikely setting. Undergraduates at university are energetic, but often need coaxing. I was startled, therefore, to see just how eager and enthralled a group of students would be when I met them at Parchman Prison.

This past Spring, I had the good fortune to witness Louis Bourgeois's memoire-writing course, the Prison Writes Program, put on at Parchman Prison. I served as the outside evaluator for a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, which supported Bourgeois and Vox, an incorporated nonprofit in Oxford, MS.

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Graduation Day for Auburn Prison Inmates

By Keri Blakinger  Image courtesy / Photo by Dave Burbank

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, a group of 13 students looking much like any other group of graduates walked across the stage to accept their diplomas as the Class of 2014. Unlike most college graduates, though, this group was entirely comprised of prisoners, inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility, the state’s oldest prison. 

The December ceremony was the second graduation ceremony ever held for the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP). Rob Scott, the program’s executive director, said that Cornell professors first began teaching prison classes back in 2001. Initially, though, it was not an official college program. There was no funding, and the courses were not offered for credit.

Then in 2008, Doris Buffett—the founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation and sister of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett—got involved and provided funding to create a program that would actually help inmates earn degrees. Now, the students earn Cornell credits. However, because Cornell does not offer a two-year degree program, the credits are transferred to Cayuga Community College so graduates are awarded liberal arts associate’s degrees. In the future, Scott hopes to see bachelor degrees become a part of the program as well. 

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