Boston University Prison Education Program

By Christopher Zoukis

Since 1972, Boston University has been offering prison inmates a chance to obtain a college degree while incarcerated. According to the Prison Studies Project, more than 280 students have obtained bachelor's degrees through this program, and some even continue on to get master's degrees, as well. Prison education has numerous benefits, and Boston University recognized this decades ago.  

The Boston University Prison Education Program offers inmates a chance to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Interdisciplinary Studies. Anyone who completes this program is considered a graduate of Boston University (BU), which is a distinction that even people who have never been in prison would benefit from. The point of BU's Prison Education Program is to not only offer a college degree, but also turn inmates into contributing members of society upon their release.  Image courtesy bu.edu

BU offers a wide selection of classes for prisoners, allowing them to take part in courses that interest them and further their education at the same time. Just some of the approximately 600 subjects available include the following:

Biology

Accounting

Sociology

Statistics

Philosophy

Marketing

Opera

Acting

Spanish

Latin

French

Greek

How the Program Works

The Boston University Prison Education Program is not offered to all inmates. Instead, only those who are clearly interested and capable of doing the work are admitted. This means inmates who have taken college courses in the past are usually eligible, as are those who pass an entrance exam. But even inmates who meet these qualifications then have to pass the Prep Program, which requires them to take four courses in one year and obtain a GPA of 2.5 or higher in order to continue on the path to get a degree.

Clearly, the setting in prison is different from the typical classroom environment. The teachers in prison are aware of this and make modifications accordingly. For example, they cannot require students to type all research papers, though they can encourage it since many do have access to computers and typewriters. At the same time, they only have a limited library and no access to the internet, so expectations are understandably different when it comes to correctional education.

The Many Benefits of Prison Education

According to the Prison Studies Project, statistics show that providing higher education in prison can reduce the recidivism rate by as much as 46 percent. The reason for this is that it is easier to begin a career when you have a college degree, and finding employment is a major part of readjusting to society upon release from prison. Improved self-esteem is another positive result of correctional education, since it frequently offers the ability for graduates to provide for themselves and their loved ones.

Prison education does not just benefit inmates, but also the surrounding communities. This is because a lower rate of recidivism reduces costs for taxpayers. Each prisoner who gets out and finds a job is one less person taxpayers have to support, and then that gainfully employed former prisoner becomes a taxpayer, too. In addition, communities benefit from increased safety when former prisoners go from being threats to society to educated and employed. As BU's The Quad points out, former prisoners who have a steady income are unlikely to feel the need to return to their previous lifestyle of breaking the law just to survive.

College for convicts can even be good for both prison administrators and fellow inmates. According to some studies, those who get an education in prison are more cooperative because they know they will lose their opportunity to learn if they cause problems. Their good behavior and effort to get an education can even influence other prisoners in a positive way.

Looking at the multiple advantages of prison education, it is no wonder that Boston University has proudly and successfully maintained its program for over 40 years.