One of the most important concepts we advocate for in the world of prison education is the idea that inmates need to be prepared to be reintegrated back into the communities from which they came. They need to be employable, centered, and have a greater likelihood of success in the modern world. This should be the primary goal of prison, and the direct objective of prison education.
Simple Inexpensive Changes Can Reduce Recidivism
While there are many potential changes that can improve the likelihood of inmate rehabilitation and post-release success (e.g., reinstating Pell Grants, which could expand college courses in prison), there are also seemingly less significant changes as well -- small changes that can make a difference in the lives of prisoners for when they are released from custody. These simply changes could result in reduced recidivism rates, but more importantly, make it possible for inmates to succeed after a term of incarceration.
An Idea Promulgated by an Incarcerated Student
Not long ago, Christopher Zoukis spoke of his personal experiences taking college courses through TRULINCS -- an email system that he uses to draft his school papers. His article ‘College Studies from Prison: How I Draft My College Papers Using The Federal Bureau of Prisons' TRULINCS Computers’ starts off with the following sentence: "Federal prisoners do not have access to word processors."
The rest of the article is about TRULINCS and how he takes his college courses, but that first sentence stands out. Why do prisoners not have access to Microsoft Word or Open Office or any of the other word processors that are available either for free on most computers, or as a premium software that is available to the public?
Basic Workforce Preparation
One of the most important skills that a person can have in this computer age is the ability to use programs like Microsoft Word, and the rest of Microsoft Office, for that matter. Indeed, it's practically expected that individuals be proficient at Microsoft Word prior to entering the workforce. This is why American middle and high schools require students to learn these skills prior to graduating, and why most state colleges have a technology proficiency requirement in their students' freshman year.
Simply allowing access to these programs would, in theory, give inmates yet another skill to help with their future employment -- a change that would be very small and simple, yet reduce recidivism through more hands-on, employment-focused learning.
It's Time for a Change to Be Made
Perhaps there is some minimal level of risk that prison administrators see which keeps them from offering such prison education programs in their institutions. But this seems unlikely, in large part due to the existence of programs like the Federal Bureau of Prisons' TRULINCS program, which the vast majority of federal inmates have access to. Preventing access to Microsoft Word, or even free word processing programs like Open Office, needlessly prevents inmates from learning skills that could help keep them out of prison in the future. It's another example of a simple change that can make a significant difference.
Allow prisoners to use word processing programs like Microsoft Word. Allow them to succeed.