Second Chance Pell: Washington Department of Correction extends support for inmate education program
Loretta D. Taylor, Education Services Administrator at the Washington State Department of Corrections, tells MEA WorldWide the grant 'has the potential to completely transform' inmates' lives
After Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for making the Second Chance Pell experiment permanent in June, Washington State Department of Corrections has now expressed support for the program.
The grant is meant to offer incarcerated people a chance to get educated while in prison and is still in the pilot stage after the Obama administration started it in 2015. However, the program is set to expire soon.
"It has the potential to completely transform them", Loretta D. Taylor, Education Services Administrator at the Washington State Department of Corrections, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
"Second Chance Pell is an opportunity for incarcerated individuals to better themselves while they are away from their families and communities," said Taylor, adding that it would aid them to further education for inmates that are currently restricted because of the ban.
"Currently, due to legislative restrictions and budgetary limitations, we are not able to offer education to every incarcerated individual. Second Chance Pell would provide the ability for expanding program offerings," she said.
Education aids in reducing recidivism numbers, research says.
Inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 43 percent lower chance of recidivating than those who did not.
The Department of Education data states that the pilot initiative has involved more than 10,000 inmates across 64 institutions.
However, most pilot programs have a shelf life of up to five years.
"We know that education reduces recidivism and offers one of the greatest returns on investment. Not only does it offer individuals the ability to earn a credential, but it can also completely transform them," Taylor said, adding, "It also provides employers with a larger pool and trained and skilled workforce. These individuals become taxpayers and consumers, rather than being a tax burden."
Apart from technological issues with internet access, the greatest challenge is funding the programs. Taylor said that they can only take on a limited number of students into our programs due to budget restraints and capacity limits.
"We also need to inform and educate the public and our legislators to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the incarcerated and ensuring they have the tools needed to return to their communities as productive and contributing members. We cannot just lock up individuals and expect to release them as a different person if they were not afforded the opportunity of education, training, and treatment," she said.
It is a long-term investment that will slowly but surely yield results, she said.
With education programs, instead of seeing themselves and prisoners and as failures, they see themselves as students and begin realizing the potential of a new and productive future, she added.
Investing in education for those behind bars also adds to the country's economy and its quality.
It helps them gain marketable job skills credentials in high-demand, high-wage fields, she said.
"Personally, I have seen education transform students and build their self-esteem. I’ve seen them go from associating education with failure, based on their past experiences in childhood, to discovering that they are bright and capable students who have a new found love of learning. They begin to see themselves as students, not as inmates," she said.