A recent NPR story, “Why aren’t there more higher ed programs behind bars?” by Eric Westervelt, highlights the Prison University Project (PUP) at San Quentin State Prison in California. The privately funded program helps inmates attain associate’s degrees. Over 100 instructors from higher education institutions across California donate their time to teach college courses at San Quentin. The inmates pay no tuition or fees and the PUP program provides all necessary materials such as books and writing utensils. Since 1996 140 inmates have earned degrees.
Jerome Boone, a current student of the PUP program, had this to say about the program: “the better we do in here, the better we are when we exit,” he says. “If we come in here and just stay the people we are when we come in, you know, without any growth or insight or any opportunity to better ourselves, we’re gonna get out that same person.”
PUP executive director, Jody Lewen, says that statistics confirm Boone’s comment. According to Lewen, in California, 65% released prisoners return to prison within three years. For PUP participants, only 17% return to prison, and none have returned for violent crime.
Some advocates for higher education in prisons argue that small investments save money in the long run. In the article, Lois Davis, a researcher for the RAND Corporation, explains that her research “has found that participation in any level of education behind bars reduced risk of being re-incarcerated by 13 percent.” She goes on to say that “for every dollar invested in a prison education program it will ultimately save taxpayers between four and five dollars in re-incarceration costs.”
The video below profiles the PUP Program.
To read “Why aren’t there more higher ed programs behind bars?” click here.
To read about the Prison University Project click here.