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3 Things That Will Revolutionize Prison Education

By Jay Derragon

The majority of people in prison are not hardened criminals; they are good people who have made bad decisions. Yet the current educational system in prisons leave little room for good people to learn how to avoid bad decisions. As W. Edwards Deming said: “A bad system will defeat a good person, every time.”The current system of prison education is not doing enough to empower behavioral change and rehabilitation of minds. The current “system of education” within prisons is antiquated, ineffective, costly and ripe for change. A transformation in methods, means, and thinking is desperately needed.

How Well Is The Current System Working?

Since 1985, the number of people incarcerated has jumped from about 744,000 to over 3.3 million in 2011. That represents an overall increase of more than 400%. While all sectors have grown over that time period, the highest growth was in the federal prison population, which increased by 473%. Increases in the other sectors ranged from 175% in state prisons to 178% in local jails. “The current correctional rehabilitation system is obviously is not working”.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reported in 2011, that nearly 7 in 10 people who are formerly incarcerated will commit a new crime, and half will end up back in prison within three years. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually rejoin society, it is crucial that we develop programs and tools to effectively reduce recidivism.

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Applying to College With a Criminal Record

By Levi LaChapelle / Truthout Op-Ed  Image courtesy

Colleges are staging areas for economic success and personal prosperity. As sociologist Andrew Cherlin recently observed to The New York Times, "A bachelor's degree is the closest thing to a class boundary that exists today." Indeed, a report from the Pew Research Center shows that for the last two decades, only college graduates have seen their incomes rise.

As students start fall classes across the country, it is worth considering how many promising individuals have been discouraged or disadvantaged in the college admissions process because of their criminal record. Sixty-five million Americans now have a misdemeanor or felony conviction; the number of individuals with a criminal record who have considered applying to college is probably no paltry sum.

The steep rise in convictions in recent decades means that exclusionary college admission practices may needlessly intensify socioeconomic inequality in America. Furthermore, because the criminal justice system is rife with racial bias, criminal history screenings are likely to exacerbate the racial gap in higher education. Acute racial disparities in arrest and conviction rates - disproportionately ensnaring young black and brown men - ensure that the use of criminal justice information in college admissions is not a race-neutral practice.

College criminal history screenings often evoke concerns about campus safety. But American college campuses have long maintained low violent-crime rates, while requiring information about past convictions has become common only recently. One study shows that approximately 67 percent of all colleges and universities now require an applicant's criminal history. Nevertheless, empirical evidence shows that schools that require criminal histories are no safer than those that do not.

On the other hand, hindering individuals with criminal records from going to college may negatively affect public safety. Criminological research clearly shows that educational programs reduce the likelihood that people with convictions will commit future crimes. Furthermore, with a national average cost of incarceration at more than $25,000 a year per inmate, taxpayers stand to save a great deal by helping people stay out of trouble and out of jail.

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How Philadelphia's Prisons Are Embracing Technology

By Aimee Rawlins /  Image courtesy

Tablets and text messages. To the general public, they might seem standard, but for a prison system, they could be revolutionary.

At least that's what Philadelphia hopes.

The city recently signed contracts with two startups to help educate inmates while in prison and keep them connected once they're out.

Traditionally, it's been difficult to implement technology into inmates' lives. Prisons often don't have space for a computer lab, and even if they do, they require significant monitoring, since inmates can't have unrestricted access to the Internet.

Jail Education Solutions is hoping to fix those issues. The Chicago-based startup is rolling out a pilot program in Philadelphia to provide tablets to inmates. They will offer everything from literacy classes and college coursework to vocational training and financial literacy seminars.

"Education is a game changer," said Brian Hill, founder of Jail Education Solutions. "And the data bears that out."

He's right. A 2013 report from RAND found that inmates who received education while in prison were 43% less likely to become repeat offenders.

JES designed tablets specifically for the program, so they'll only have offerings determined by the prison system.

"If someone took the tablet and tried to use it outside the jail, it would be absolutely worthless," said Hill.

The pilot program will put more than 100 tablets in the hands of both male and female inmates. The startup received $30,000 from the city to roll it out (a "strong gesture" according to Hill, but it won't cover the costs). Eventually, they'll rent the tablets to inmates for $2 a day, which Hill says will allow the company to be self sustaining.

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Average Prisoner Receives Two Visits While Incarcerated, New Study Finds

Image courtesy theguardian.comBy Christopher Zoukis  

No one needs convincing that prison is probably a lonely place, filled with hostile guards and dangerous inmates.  At least from the Hollywood point of view, the only comfort for most convicts is a letter from home or the occasional visit from family or friends.  Sadly, though, a new study indicates that many prisoners do not even have the solace of visitors from outside, and that the average inmate receives only two visits during their entire length of incarceration.

Prisoner Visitation's Connection to Recidivism

Consistent with previous research, a recent study published in the journal Crime and Delinquency indicates that Florida prisoners who regularly receive visitors do better during their stay behind bars and upon re-entry into the community than those who don't receive frequent visits.  "Visitation helps individuals maintain social ties during imprisonment, which, in turn, can improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism," the authors of the study wrote.  "Not being visited can result in collateral consequences and inequality in punishment."

Those Who Receive Few to No Visits

Necessarily implied by the study's findings is that many prisoners receive no visitors at all.  Those who are older, black, or have been incarcerated numerous time had the fewest visitors.  White, Latino, younger, and newly incarcerated inmates received the most visits.  Economic status and the length of a prisoner's sentence did not factor into the likelihood of visitors.

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Social Justice Advocate Interviews Transgender Federal Inmate about Abhorrent Healthcare

Since 2012, Rinchen has tried to get treatment for nerve damage to her foot and leg. And as a transgender female, she is no stranger to facing difficult challenges. A proactive prisoner, she is the leader of a Buddhist group that helps other prisoners from diverse backgrounds to collectively meditate and worship.

"This helps to calm others' rage and anger while keeping my own frustrations in check," she says. "That said, I am frustrated over the deplorable medical treatment I have received. It's like we are in a third-world country."

The issue related to her leg has to do with nerve function, and a condition that seems to be progressive in nature. Her condition has continued to deteriorate to the point of requiring the use of a cane, and a self-made foot/ankle brace.

Rinchen fears that the nerve damage to her leg may now be irreversible.

"I can barely walk, and standing up is a real task," she says. "I don't sleep much because of painful muscle spasms. It's frustrating because until I got hurt, I was an avid runner and taught yoga at the prison. I can't do any of that now. Just walking to the chow hall is a chore. It's a nightmare for someone who was once so athletic. Frankly, I'm terrified I won't be able to walk anymore. I cannot imagine prison in a wheelchair."

Zoukis is working to help get the word out. He wrote an article about the interview conducted with Rinchen and hopes that it will garner enough attention so Rinchen can get the healthcare she is in dire need of.

The full article can be read here:

Learn more about the author here: He is also a regular contributor to: and

Media Contact: Rachel Sentes, Gal Friday Publicity, 604-366-7846;


Prison Bound? Try a Coach to Survive Behind Bars

By Corrections One Staff /  Bill Doane / Image courtesy

Sentenced to some time behind bars, but don’t think you can hack it? Try a prison coach, a consultant who’s survived behind bars and can teach you to do the same.

USA Today reports that Bill Doane, a former New York prison inmate who served 26 years for stabbing a man in Brooklyn, offers to those who are headed inside the big house for the first time.

Doane says that though there is violence, and there are stabbings, the stereotype of rampant homosexual rape is not common in New York facilities. He also says inmates don’t fall into the Hollywood stereotypes, such as musclebound black men pumping iron, Latinos with pencil-thin mustaches, or white supremacists with tattoos and shaved heads.

After being released a year ago, Doane has been counseling vets in Suffolk County and also works with Prison Preparation Consultation Services. Most of their clients are of the white-collar variety.

The prison coaching business was started by Joey Petrucelli of Scarsdale, NY, who served 19 years for a fatal shooting outside a night club in 1993.

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Medical Alert: Prison Activist in Need

By Christopher Zoukis  Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis

Today I bring a story that hits a bit too close to home that requires your immediate attention.  For the past two years Sangye Rinchen, a close friend of mine, has been battling a serious, debilitating nerve injury to her leg.  For years she -- Sangye's a transgender Buddhist, thus the feminine pronoun -- has tried to work with her prison's Health Services Department to resolve the issue, but medical care has not been forthcoming.  Instead, all she receives is delays and excuses from FCI Petersburg staff.

Sangye's condition and the lack of medical attention to it is particularly frustrating for many in this prison to watch because she has always been a tireless advocate for the rights of others, and is known as a compassionate voice of reason on the prison yard, always ready to give up her time to help someone in need, regardless of their background or circumstances.  She is the spiritual heart of the strong Buddhist community that she helped found at this prison, and is a true peacemaker among all factions.  Yet, she suffers without any real medical attention.  Some in this community theorize that it is her transgender status, and advocacy efforts for other transgender women here, that is at the root of the FCI Petersburg's failure to treat her.  In the end, the reasons don't matter.  Even some of the line officers here have expressed shock and dismay at the lack of medical treatment.  As for the inmate population, well, many of them are unhappy to say the least.  If it could happen to Sangye, it could happen to them.  As for Sangye, I know she tries to rely on her Buddhist training to remain buoyant and free of anger, but I know that it must be hard.  I'm her cellmate, and I see the pain on her face each and every day.

Thus far, Health Services has allowed some basic diagnostic tests: x-rays, an EMG, a brief review by a orthopedist, and a consult with a brace-maker.  But additional steps have not been forthcoming.  For example, the orthopedist actually refused to touch the leg, stating that a neurologist and an MRI were required.  She has waited for more than a year to see a neurologist, but, in truth, no appointment has even been scheduled.  The EMG showed significant blockage in the nerves of the leg.  She's now using a cane, but continues to fall nevertheless.

As time has gone on, my friend has continued to suffer unnecessarily.  And these issues have persisted.  They're obviously worsening.  Our hope is that they are not degenerative and permanent.  Sangye no longer teaches her cheery yoga classes to the prisoners on Thursday mornings; on some days, she can barely stand up without assistance. Thus far, every medical professional who has examined her leg has exclaimed that she shouldn't have waited so long to come in for help, that waiting has certainly made it worse.  All have been shocked that my friend has been seeking treatment for years on end.  Sandy

What is needed is your help.  I need you to read the interview that I did with Sangye and I need you to share it with your contacts on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.  This can simply be accomplished by liking, sharing, tweeting, and commenting on the interview's page.  You can find the interview at the Huffington Post through the following link:

By socially sharing this article (and the previous interview), you will be doing your part to make a difference.  As more people read it and share it with others, more attention will be brought to her condition.  And as more attention is garnered, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be harder and harder pressed to ignore this matter.

Thank you very much for your time and attention to this matter.  By sharing this interview with others, you will be making a real, timely impact upon my friend's quality of life.

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