Pilot program puts college behind bars

Michigan prison inmates are being offered a new path to higher education while behind bars.

Michigan prison inmates are being offered a new path to higher education while behind bars.

The pilot program,

Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project

, is a national initiative to expand access to school to inmates during and after prison.

The Vera Institute of Justice, which started the Pathways program, believes the educational support increases the chance an inmate will find a job after release from prison and will reduce recidivism.

Michigan will receive one-million-dollars in incentive funding to pilot educational programming and reentry support services in two correctional facilities.

The Pathways Project, a five-year initiative directed by Vera, provides funding and technical assistance to selected states to develop a continuum of postsecondary education services for people within two years prior to release from prison through two years after release to the community.

Michigan was one of six states invited to apply for this competitive program; New Jersey and North Carolina were previously selected to participate in the project.

"Vera is pleased that Michigan will be part of this ground-breaking collaboration and grateful to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for its support," said Michael Jacobson, Vera's president and director. "Ensuring that people who are returning to their communities from prison have the educational credentials to successfully enter the labor market can both improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars."

"The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is proud to support the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education project, especially given the fact that our home state of Michigan was selected as one of the three pilot states," said Alandra Washington, director, Family Economic Security, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "The foundation's new partnership with the Vera Institute will help test and prove innovative methods for not only helping the formerly incarcerated reenter the workforce, but also for re-engaging with their families. Many of these parolees are parents and this project represents yet another avenue for the foundation to improve the life outcomes for disadvantaged kids."

"The data on successful offender re-entry is very clear. Improving postsecondary educational opportunities for offenders is critical for their success," said Daniel Heyns, director of Michigan's Department of Corrections. "This grant affords us additional resources to enhance our educational programming. We could not be more pleased to partner with Vera to this end."

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 37 percent of federal and state inmates do not have a high school diploma or a GED, compared to 19 percent of the general population. Seventy-eight percent of the prison population lacks postsecondary education, compared to 49 percent of the general population. Moreover, studies suggest that graduating from college programs can decrease recidivism by approximately 72 percent.

The project is unique not only for its emphasis on coordination between pre- and post-release programming, but also for the partnerships that participating states are required to form with and between state and local officials, corrections and parole agencies, schools of higher education, employers, and community-based service providers.

In Michigan, participants at pilot facilities will have the opportunity to complete college-credit courses provided by Jackson and Oakland Community Colleges which will be transferable to those colleges upon release. Kalamazoo Valley Community College will be partnering in providing post-release services.

Project participants will continue to receive academic assistance during their reentry period and will be linked to needed support services provided through partnerships with community-based human services and workforce development organizations.