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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 11, 2013 at 4:30 PM

State should lift ban on funding higher ed for inmates

Prison may offer first access to education

Thank you for the editorial in support of lifting the ban on funding higher education for prison inmates [“Lift state ban on funding higher ed for inmates,” Opinion, March 5].

The image many people have of the incarcerated is that of the hard-core criminal. Although this belief is common, it does not reflect reality. While the United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. incarcerates a quarter of the world’s prisoners. These numbers combined with the highest prison recidivism rates in the developed world tell me that it’s high time our prisons start focusing on actual rehabilitation. Providing access to education is one of the only proven ways to do this.

Most people in the U.S. prison system come from low-income, disenfranchised communities. With only 46 percent of prisoners having a high-school diploma, the opportunity to access higher education in prison might be the first adequate access to education these individuals have had.

Education is one of the only effective tools known to prevent prison recidivism. Providing educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals is not a waste of taxpayer money. If anything, with a $20,000 return for every $5,000 invested, increased access to education reduces the financial and societal burden that our current criminal-justice system perpetuates.

–Nathan Ogden, Seattle

Accountability is necessary

I support this move with reservations.

There needs to be accountability. Legislators and the Department of Corrections need to comprehend math. Budget cuts every year means the program requires dedicated staff working ridiculous hours with limited resources under dangerous conditions.

I worked in the prison education program for several years. Our statistics proved greatly reduced recidivism. I took a printing program from debt to paying for itself. Taxpayers saved on state printing costs. Our community advisory committee worked with inmates making more than $100,000 in printing-equipment donations. Basic-skills instructors made progress with the developmentally disabled, who had a chance at learning and being productive.

What we experienced was personal agendas from legislators, program directors, etc., that resulted not only in losing the two-year associate degree [program], but the printing program and much of the developmentally disabled program. Jobs were lost including mine.

Legislators admitted their mistake of inadequately working the bill ending the two-year degree when informed the new education director (not the first choice of a hiring committee) had already made devastating cuts. Not one of the legislators had the backbone to stop the end of successful programs.

Taxpayers deserve better if the degree program is restored.

–Sandra Watkins, Mountlake Terrace

Comments | More in crime/justice, Education, Higher education, Washington Legislature | Topics: House Bill 1429, prison system

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