Education from the insideBy Alyssa Judd
Published: November 16, 2012
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than two million U.S. citizens are living behind bars. According to North Carolina Department of Public Safety the number of prison inmates within the state exceeds 30,000.
Guilford College’s Justice and Policy Studies and Center for Principled Problem Solving Departments plan to establish a higher education initiative for incarcerated individuals. The program would be designed to help chosen individuals achieve a liberal arts degree.
On Thursday, November 8, the departments hosted a panel discussion to promote community awareness of how education in prison helps to diminish recidivism and produce articulate leaders; to share the processes of degree attainment for those individuals; and promote strategies for higher education.
The panel included Sean Pica, the executive director of the Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prisons; Max Kenner, the executive director of Bard Prison Initiative and vice president of Institutional Initiatives; Dr. Anne Hayes, an instructor in a Virginia correctional center and Anthony Cardenales, a Bard College (New York) graduate.
Pica and Cardenales are two people who can attribute their success to in-prison college programs. Pica received his degree in 2001 from the Nyack College program that is in collaboration with the Westchester County nonprofit, Hudson Link. Cardenales received his degree in 2008.
The first topic discussed amongst the group was prison pedagogy.
Pica began by saying the education received in the college program is vital to the inmates’ success. He shared how inmates challenge their professors and their professors must challenge them in return to produce educational growth. “We have to have students that once they’re released, they’re 110 percent prepared to meet those challenges they’ll meet,” shared Pica.
Cardenales said what he appreciated most in the classroom was being treated as an equal human being and not a “charity case or subject.” He attributed Bard College for helping him to achieve the goals he set. “The college provided me with the education to articulate, to mold and shape my dreams,” said Cardenales.
Although it would seem receiving an education in prison is simple when there is a program built to help, Hayes and the others assured that is not the case. Besides the competitiveness for enrollment and the costs, inmates are still eager to participate. While the students are more than willing to work hard in their courses there are other situations that at times prevent them from preforming at their best. Hayes said that some, not all,officers will try to make students late to their classes. She said if an inmate is late twice in the in-college program they are then removed from the initiative.
“It’s little things, little sabotages,” said Hayes.
Cardenales shared how the staff officers, with the exception of a few, showed no support for the program when he took classes. He said the officers felt as if the inmates were being entitled to a free education when they had to pay for their children’s education. Cardenales said the officers associated monetary expense without the humanity part.
The in-college prison programs are not state or federally funded. The programs are financed through organizations and community members who see a need for the initiative.
The panel discussion continued to cover topics on prison assessment tools, success stories, how education in the prison system moves the community forward and how to raise funding.
Each individual shared their perspective with the audience and took questions.
When it comes to the efficiency of establishing higher education for incarcerated individuals, Hayes said, “Getting everyone on the same page is the difficulty.”
Organizers of Guilford College’s Justice and Policy Studies did not release a date they would begin the prison higher education initiative. The initiative is believed to still be in the planning stages.