A new report from the New York City-based Council of State Governments Justice Center found that nationwide, commitment by state governments is lacking for postsecondary education for their incarcerated populations.
“While states oversee approximately 87% of all individuals in prison and spend over $40 billion annually on prison operations, state policies have traditionally exacerbated the barriers that incarcerated people face when attempting to continue their education and find viable employment in the community,” the report concludes.
Only 6% of the incarcerated population has a postsecondary degree. Although unemployment among the formerly-incarcerated is roughly five times higher than the general population, inmates who participate in educational programming are between 13% and 28% likelier to find a job post-release than those who did not participate.
The Justice Center identified four “building blocks” for providing postsecondary education: using available federal and state money, offering a full range of programs that align with market needs, having incentives for inmates to transition into society, and removing restrictions to accessing an education.
No state had all four elements, and 36 states had one or none. The report noted that Colorado does have a range of programs, with associate and bachelor degrees available and a reliance on local labor market needs. Adams State University’s Prison College Program and Colorado Correctional Industries offer career and technical education in fields that include cosmetology, welding, and information technology.
However, the Justice Center found that Colorado is not taking advantage of federal funding streams and places conditions on entering postsecondary programs based on an individual’s length of sentence. There is no current prohibition against colleges asking an applicant to disclose their criminal histories, although a law taking effect later this year would curtail the practice somewhat.
Finally, the report indicated that the Department of Corrections does not have formal agreements with institutions regarding the transfer or college credit, nor does the State Parole Board provide post secondary advisers or coordinators.