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The Education vs. Incarceration Debate

The Education vs. Incarceration Debate The letter shown on the cover of the magazine is authentic. It was written by a female inmate pleading for an education.

Educating the incarcerated is one of those issues about which the battle lines are drawn. Prison-education advocates say that some form of education reduces the likelihood of the convicted returning to prison once they are released. However, opponents argue that public dollars should not be spent on educating prisoners. After all, these people have committed crimes and life in prison is supposed to be rough.

Assistant editor Kendra Hamilton got a first-hand look at the power of education and its effect on a group of women who are currently serving time at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in New York. Incarcerated for a variety of crimes, these women have earned associate’s, bachelor’s and even master’s degrees while in prison. Like all of us, the women feel a great sense of accomplishment when they receive their degrees. When the education programs at Bedford Hills were eliminated a few years ago, prison officials saw increased fighting, decreased use of the library and even increased suicide attempts. When you hear those facts, it’s difficult to argue against offering education programs in the prisons. At the same time I understand the arguments of those who feel that prisoners do not deserve any “perks” to ease and pass the time while in prison.

Here are some statistics to help put the U.S. prison situation in perspective:

•  African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but comprise 47 percent of the country’s prison population.

•  Two-thirds of women in U.S. prisons are women of color.

•  One in 10 Black males between the ages of 25 and 29 were incarcerated in state or federal prisons by the end of 2001.

•  Forty percent of women in prison held no job prior to incarceration. Of those who had jobs, two-thirds reported never receiving more than $6.50 an hour.

With stats like that, we as a society have to be realistic. Many — actually hundreds of thousands — of those incarcerated will be released this year to our communities. Personally, I would like them to have some skills, increasing the likelihood of their finding employment, and hopefully decreasing the chances of their committing another crime and returning to prison. Scholars say this is one area where more research is needed — re-entry into society. In “Returning Home,” senior writer Ronald Roach speaks with several scholars who weigh in on the re-entry issue, which has taken on an even greater urgency because of the mass imprisonment over the last few decades. In addition, Garry Boulard reports on the role community colleges are playing in educating inmates in parts of California and Nevada.

On a “lighter” note, Lelita Cannon speaks with Claflin University student Daniel Howard, a Hollywood heavyweight in the making. Moved by the violence in their New York neighborhood, Howard and his friend, Terrence Fisher, produced a short film “Bullets in the Hood,” which received a Sundance award last month.

Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry has earned an impressive reputation throughout the years for graduating top-notch students who go on to work in Fortune 500 companies all around the world. And they’ve managed to do this without being accredited. Now, however, the school is taking steps to earn accreditation. Marlon A. Walker speaks with the interim dean Dr. Amos Bradford and founding dean Dr. Sybil Mobley about how accreditation might change the way they do business.

Tracie Powell interviews Elridge McMillan who as of this month has served 30 years on the board of regents for the University System of Georgia. His colleagues paid tribute to him last month, honoring him with a lifetime achievement award. Assistant editor Crystal L. Keels reviews “Still Black, At Yale,” a documentary by two recent Yale University graduates who wanted to give some insight into what life is like at an Ivy League institution for African-American students. And lastly, poet, publisher, professor Haki R. Madhubuti remembers actor, playwright, human rights activist Ossie Davis who died earlier this month at the age of 87.

Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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