Crisis in Prison Education Programs

Posted: June 7, 2010 by parchangelo in Uncategorized

Read the full text of the John Howard Association report here. Some of the report findings:
In Illinois, the educational opportunities offered inmates by community
colleges began declining at least eight years ago. The pace of the decline is
now accelerating.

In 2002, nearly 6,000 inmates or 14 percent of the prison population were
enrolled in college programs. By 2009, that number had fallen to 4,730 and
because of the increase in the prison system’s population, only a little more
than 10 percent of inmates were able to take college classes.  (See figure 2)

In 2002 there were 136 vocational programs available in Illinois prisons. In
2009 there were only ninety-six.

At first the erosion was small.

The JH Report goes on to state that IDOC Director Michael Randle has a possible solution to pay community colleges upfront for their program services, but there is no guarantee that it will work. The JH Report basically finds that the barriers to keeping education programs alive and meaningful at IDOC facilities are unlikely to be overcome in the current Illinois fiscal crisis, no matter what temporary solutions are attempted.

Below is related Herald-Review article reporting on IDOC budget shortage affecting prison education programs in two Southern IL IDOC prisons.

Southeastern Illinois College drops prison education program over lack of state payments

By KURT ERICKSON – H&R Springfield Bureau Chief | Posted: Sunday, June 6, 2010 3:01 am |

SPRINGFIELD – Potential reductions to educational programs in state prisons could lead to an uptick in crime, a prison watchdog group said.

The warning comes as the Illinois Department of Corrections was scrambling to find an organization to provide vocational training to inmates at two Southern Illinois prisons.

Southeastern Illinois College trustees voted last month to stop providing services at Shawnee and Vienna correctional centers because it wasn’t being paid in a timely manner by the cash-strapped state.

The community college joined at least two other vendors who say they will not do business with the Department of Corrections until they are paid. The others include an eyeglasses manufacturer and an ammunition dealer.

The budget approved by lawmakers last month doesn’t address the massive backlog, which is expected to top $5.5 billion this month.

“Everyone’s sympathetic to the situation. There’s just no money to pay us,” Southeastern board Chairman Pat York said.

The John Howard Association, which monitors prison-related issues in Illinois, said a decrease in educational offerings to inmates could increase recidivism rates.

“Numerous scientific studies have proven that education for inmates greatly reduces the likelihood they will commit new offenses after their release from prison,” the organization noted last week.

Southeastern is among a handful of community colleges that provide educational services to state prisons. Illinois Valley Community College, for example, provides services to Sheridan Correctional Center.

Rend Lake Community College offers programs to inmates at the Big Muddy and Pinckneyville prisons.

Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman wasn’t aware of any other colleges threatening to quit because they are not being paid for their work.

According to college officials, Southeastern had hoped to gain assurances of timely payments from the state, but the ongoing budget mess “resulted in too many unknowns and increased financial risk.”

Elman said Southeastern was asking for money up front to provide educational services.

“Southeastern asked for advance payments going forward and (state) code does not allow us to do that,” Elman said. “We are currently in talks with another college and are hopeful that they will provide the service.”

Elman said a decision on what college will replace Southeastern could come quickly, allowing education programs to continue at the two Southern Illinois prisons without a large gap in service.

“There really won’t be any down time,” Elman said.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|789-0865

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