Prison Education essay

“If you treat an individual as he is he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become as he ought to be and could be” (Goethe). The heated debate over prison education is much like this. Do we educate our prisoners and treat them as what they ought to be and could be, or do we treat them as they are, criminals? Do we give them a chance to change, or assume they don’t want to change? Many feel that educating our prisoners is a human right. The other side to this debate is that it would cost too much money. There are two very important sides to this debate and we must weigh the pros and cons of both.

Brian Noad, who wrote Adult Education in NSW prisons, has pointed out that “it is a human right that prisoners should be allowed access to education” (2). Prisoners are still humans and although they have made mistakes they have rights just like everyone else. People in prison should be treated like equal citizens and not just as criminals. Brian Noad has also pointed out that “the right of prisoners to educational programs is based on human dignity, and while one community view is that prisoners are enemies of society, they have dignity as persons” (2). In turn if they are treated with respect and dignity by given the opportunity to education, they will treat others with respect and dignity. Everyone is equal, even if prisoners are viewed differently; they deserve the right to learn.

Secondly, if you just keep them in prison and away from the real world they will not know how to function once they are released. This may lead them to a life of crime once again. After they serve their prison term and are released they need to be armed with the right tools to survive and education is one of these tools. According to Brian Nomad, “the goal of prison education is to provide development programs which are designed to prepare prisoners to lead law-abiding lives” (5). While in prison inmates should maintain the skills they have entered prison with and also develop and explore new skills, education would do this. Education would also help them to adapt to prison life easier and help them to make wise choices while in prison and when they are released. Entering prison leads to many complex changes, and certain educational programs could assist them with these changes. Educational programs could also prepare them for re-entry into the community, and to lead law-abiding lives. We should try to help them become better citizens once they are released. Prison just shouldn’t be about trying to punish them for their crimes we should be concerned with trying to shape them as a person.

Also, if you educate them and lead them into the right direction they could help our economy. As John Garmon states in his article, The Power of Prison Education, “it is proven that programs for inmates could improve the economy by helping incarcerated people prepare for life beyond jail, when they are released and able to seek productive jobs and more fulfilling lives- and become fully contributing taxpaying citizens” (2). Our society would benefit so much if prisoners were given the chance to learn and grow. Education can do so many things for a person and open so many doors. John Garmon agrees that “education is a passport to freedom- not just from incarceration, but also from economic and social distress” (2). This is what prison should be about isn’t it? We should try to help them get back into our society and give them one more chance to make a difference for the better and not the worse. John Garmon also believes “that by supporting prison education we could save millions by preventing an individual’s return to prison, eliminating costs to victims, courts and prisoner’s family, and lost wages and taxes of an incarcerated person” (2). In the end our economy would benefit greatly. We would save money by them not returning to prison and they would become fully contributing taxpaying citizens.

Many prisoners are very eager to learn and were just never given the opportunity. Who are we to say who deserves an education and who doesn’t? For the most part prisoners are more eager to learn than children in our school systems. Statistics in Brian Noads article state that “prisoners enrolled in education have an 86 percent class attendance rate; 82 percent enrolled in education courses complete them; and 86 percent achieve their individual learning objectives” (10). These percents are much higher than our schools numbers. It is ironic that children in our school systems are just handed opportunities to get an education and most of them don’t even bother to go to school. While prisoners have to fight for an education and their attendance and completion rate is much higher. It makes you think about who deserves the educational programs?
On the other hand, we are already spending much more money on prisons than we are on our schools. If we add education to our prisons the cost to run them would far exceed our schools. So while prisoners are getting the education they need some children are not getting the best education they could be getting. Audie Bock, who wrote Education Before Prisons, “estimates that we spend $7,324 per student per year, and $25,000 per prisoner per year” (1). It doesn’t seem right that education is not top priority. While we are spending so much money on prisoners who’s to say that recidivism won’t be the outcome? If this is the case we just wasted the honest taxpayer’s money. Michael Luevano, the author of Better schools, not more prisons, reported that “in California twenty-one prisons have opened in the past fourteen years” (1). The last one cost around $4.5 billion dollars just to build. All the money spent on prisons in California come from the same fund that issues money to schools. After $4.5 billion dollars what is left for our schools? Michael Luevano also points out that “prison funding has risen by 847 percent, but funding for education has only increased 116 percent” (1). Something is not right if funding for prisons is higher than education. The funding for education should far exceed the funding for prisons and their needs. We need to rethink our funding system, and although it is important to keep our society safe, we need to worry about our top priorities, such as education, that make the most sense for our country.

All this money being spent on prisons makes us loose sight of what is really important. If we do not start to focus more on education and emphasize the importance of it, some of these would-be students might turn to crime. Hillary Shelton also speaks out in Michael Luevanos article, she is the director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, she says: “It is sad that our states are finding it easier to contribute more to incarcerating our men and women and creating a downward spiral of poverty and destitution rather than investing through our educational system to create an upward spiral of accomplishment and achievement” (2). So while we are worrying so much about criminals and spending so much money on them, our children are not getting the proper education to prosper in life. We are sending the wrong message to our children and we are putting too much importance on inmates and prisons. Michael Luevano makes it clear that “ if higher-education institutions are not built for students to pursue careers, then they will be pursuing something else- perhaps on the streets” (2).

Another argument against education in jails is the concept that to educate prisoners would be turning our nation’s penal institutions into schoolhouses rather than establishments for punishment. Inmates are there because they committed a crime and they should be punished for it, not because they dropped out of school and they want a second chance. Learning should stay in schools and punishment should stay in prisons. If education is of high importance in jails and punishment is not it gives prisons a sort of “softness on crime” attitude. Which should not be the case, if you are in jail you committed a crime and you are not a law-abiding citizen. Inmates should not be offered the same advantages that everyone else is offered. They should have to earn their privileges; they should not just be handed to them.

There are two very important issues here and it is important to remember that both of them affect all of us in a big way. It doesn’t matter which side you support, in one way or another they both affect us. There are many people that believe prisoners should have access to an education for various reasons. It would help our economy because they would know how to live once they were released and how to get a job. It would give them a chance to learn and grow. There are also people who oppose the idea of education in prisons. We already spend three times as much per prisoner per year than we do on students per year. The cost would increase if education was added. Also, a lot of attention and funding is being directed to prisons, which is degrading the importance of education in schools. There are numerous arguments supporting education in prisons and there are also arguments defending our schools and our children. Which side are you on?

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