Education in prison can break the cycle of mass incarceration

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State Representative Robyn Porter met with inmates at Cybulski Correctional Facility last year to find out how their cases continue to affect their lives after release from prison.

For years I was known as inmate number 341916. I spent over 15 years of my life in prison, on parole / probation or under community supervision after making an impulsive decision that took me through the cycle of mass incarceration. But now I’m now known as Trinity College student Marisol Garcia, class of 2022.

Marisol Garcia

The US Department of Education recently began negotiations on prison education programs. Congress will decide what the increased Pell Grant funding would look like for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people like me. I am proof that Pell Grant funding and education can change a person’s life and trajectory.

To say that my background has been different from that of most high school students is an understatement. After graduating from high school, I walked straight into the workforce thinking I might go back to school later. Family and work responsibilities have always been my priorities until my mother fell ill with cancer. Suddenly my life got out of hand with increasing medical bills and the fear of losing my mother. Rather than stopping to breathe and think, I made some difficult but bad decisions that led to my imprisonment. I embezzled nearly $ 40,000 from my employer, which led to my incarceration in 2006. While in prison, I started some classes at the university, but after my release, the university , once again, has fallen into the water. That is, until I was arrested again in 2015.

On my second prison sentence (I was then 38, serving time for theft and forgery), I took two college courses that gave me insight into who I could become if I stop making excuses for myself. . One was a Trinity College human rights course, and the other was a philosophy course offered by the Center for Prison Education (CPE) at Wesleyan University. These classes fueled my ambition to help others in my community after my release. My goal is to review and create a public policy that will reduce inconsistencies in sentences and provide the tools to avoid the pitfalls that get people to jail to begin with. One of these tools is access to education.

Prison education programs are courses sponsored by colleges and universities to provide secondary education opportunities for incarcerated men and women while they are inside. These programs have been shown to provide long-term tax savings to society by significantly reducing the cost of incarceration and supervision. Rather than investing taxpayer dollars in prison construction and staffing, prison education programs turn ex-offenders into taxpayers by equipping students with critical thinking skills and a label transferable to the place. of work. While mass incarceration robbed me of my humanity, education helped me find employment after my release in 2019.

Prison education programs develop individual identity and encourage students to critically engage with the world around them. While incarcerated, I looked forward to sitting down with my classmates and having lively discussions about political, religious and current events. These weekly discussions provided an outlet to the outside world and allowed us to see ourselves as whole beings.

With the support of my CPE mentor and an educational advisor from Trinity, I will graduate in May 2022 with a degree in public policy and law and apply to law schools to study social justice and policy reform. The prison education programs provided me with the knowledge I needed to return to my community and the ambition to eventually work with lawmakers on sentencing policy, sentencing reform and alternatives. in prison that reduce recidivism rates.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy reported in 2011 that seven in ten people would reoffend by committing a new crime within three years of being released. Prior to attending York Correctional educational programs, I immediately found myself inside barbed wire fences seeing what I thought were the same faces. But they weren’t the same faces. These were the daughters of women with whom I had been imprisoned before. The cycle of mass incarceration was complete. Education programs in prison can break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration by providing parents with the opportunity to be role models for their children.

If we do not support education in prison through national legislation for Pell grants for the incarcerated population, local reintegration programs that support returning citizens and individual donations to education programs in prison, many detainees will remain only … detainees known only under the given number. passing behind bars. Education programs in prison offer the hope of ending the cycle of mass incarceration and transforming the lives of incarcerated men and women, their families and the community as a whole. If I had spent so many years educating myself in the classroom and in life, I would have been a source of community awareness rather than prison statistics.

Marisol Garcia is a Individualized diploma program student at Trinity College, Hartford.


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