Education: The Key to Equality

Kerner Commission Series Education Full
While increased access to college can improve employment prospects and lead to self-sufficiency, it can also transform the identity of formerly incarcerated people and how they are viewed in the world.

Vera recently led a five-year initiative in Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina—titled Unlocking Potential: Pathways from Prion to Postsecondary Education—that provided direction, funding, and expert technical assistance to these states to build up college programs in their state prisons. Vera facilitated partnerships between departments of correction and colleges, with the goal of providing high quality, credential- and degree-focused postsecondary education in prisons. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for implementing successful postsecondary education programs, and Vera’s partnerships provided the knowledge, tools, and best practices for each location to select what would effectively work in their individual settings.

Currently, 66 colleges and universities are providing credit-bearing college courses in over 100 prisons in 27 states through the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites InitiativeResearch shows that providing higher education to incarcerated individuals provides an astounding 400 percent return on investment by significantly reducing recidivism. This means that educating people in prison has the power to save staggering amounts of money for the collective society. More important, increasing access to postsecondary education in prison has the power to generate financial wellbeing for marginalized individuals and families.

Expanding access to education can change how society views people with justice system involvement, changing the narrative around formerly incarcerated people.  While increased access to college can improve employment prospects and lead to self-sufficiency, more significantly, it can also transform the identity of formerly incarcerated people and how they are viewed in the world.

As stated by Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, fostering higher education in prison has proven to “change the economic trajectories of entire families.” Vera is actively working to be part of the solution to unjust racial disparities in education, employment, and wealth. And we will not wait another 50 years to see progress.

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