Providing College To Prison Inmates Series (Part 2)

This is the second blog post in the "Providing College To Prison Inmates Series." This series is based upon seven ‘Recommendations for Policy and Practice’ presented by Contardo on pages 154 through 156 of her text Providing College To Prison Inmates.

"Build interagency partnerships to better address the challenges of providing correctional education." –Contardo (pg. 155)

Government by definition is bureaucratic. This means that there are many different organizations, which have vastly different objectives and their own staff – based upon their own hierarchy – that move in the direction of their objectives. Confusion would not even begin to describe the situation since many, even within their own organization, are bewildered by all of the connections, roles, and responsibilities.

The realm of correctional education is the same. Since I am most familiar with the inner workings of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I will utilize this prison system as my example. At the local level there are individual prisoners who teach classes and tutor fellow prisoners, staff who teach and at the same time oversee the prisoners who teach and/or tutor, assistant supervisors who oversee the staff and their supervision of the prisoner instructors and tutors, and even a Supervisor of Education who oversees one and all at the local institution. To add to this, there is even an Assistant Warden who oversees the Education Department as a whole. Above the local level is the regional level, and above the regional level is the national level. Each tiered level with a more macro focus and different whole, yet connected, objective.

As you can see, there are many moving parts to any local institution, including a regional office which oversees several institutions in their region, and even a single national office which oversees everything. While this is confusing enough, there are still other groups and organizations which play a part in facilitating correctional education at every level. For example, the American Correctional Association (ACA) is a big player in the operational functions and environment in which prison staff are employed. The ACA is the specific professional organization of correctional officers. A side step away from them, yet still deeply connected, is the Correctional Education Association. This association comprises prison educators, administrators, students, and even the lowly prison scholar such as myself who can afford to subscribe. Although, I don’t think there are many prisoners who are members.

The point of parading this web of connections is to reveal the sheer magnitude of individuals and agencies that play a part in facilitating correctional education. I could expand this web even further and include the United States Department of Education, CHEA, six regional accreditation agencies, specialized accreditation agencies, colleges, nonprofits, State Correctional Education Coordinators, publications, or focus groups which all have a hand in prison education. But I will have mercy on you. However, what I will say is that each has an office, a staff, organization-specific initiatives, objectives, and policies. With so many diverse organizations and people involved, it's a wonder that change and growth are ever realized.

While each group has its own objectives, the total goal of the whole should not be to fulfill each group's objectives, but to effect real, meaningful change. Too often the means are the sole focus, not the end product. Once we as a whole – individuals and organizations who are involved in correctional education – realize that the focus needs to be more macro (correctional education as a whole), not micro (organization-specific initiatives), we can progress towards advocating for each specific group involved (e.g. prison educators, educational administrators, incarcerated students, researchers, etc.). With the growth of prison populations and correctional budgets at the current rate, we can't afford to continue to squander our resources and not affect change on a total scale.

As complex as these organizational structures are, the solution is simple. We need to bring representatives from each organization or group to the table, literally. We need to create work groups and collaborative initiatives comprised of the different players. Think of this as a round table discussion, but on a more permanent basis. An hour long discussion won't do the trick. We need an office comprised of representatives from the different groups involved. That way, each group's work can be informed and directed by the central collaborative group. Only then will everyone involved be on the same page; not only willing, but able to complement each other. Plus, by bringing the various correctional education organizations to the table, resources will be conserved by eliminating redundant efforts by each organization, efforts that have already been fulfilled by others.

The long and the short of it is that a collaborative effort – an industry-specific group which can facilitate and coordinate macro initiatives – is needed. Through collaboration resources will be preserved, the various groups involved in the correctional education transaction (e.g. educators, administrators, students, etc.) will be better represented, and change will be effected as never before. Organizations which work in Alaska will be able to coordinate with organizations in Florida. And initiatives to improve classroom instruction in Arkansas can build upon research and experience gained in California. Simply put: The whole correctional education system will be better off for it. And all of this could be attained by simplifying communications and promoting interagency partnerships!