College in Prison: For Some, but Not All

Author: Dwight Henley, MBA

After the RAND research report showed recidivism significantly dropped as prisoner educational levels increased, President Obama issued an executive order to provide funding for further research. Years later PELL Grants were re-instituted for prisoners, and now colleges all across America are rushing to provide prisoners degree programs. Yet not all correctional officials embrace this change.

Oakland University recently attempted to bring a degree program to Macomb Correctional Facility in Lenox Township, Michigan. Instead of embracing the college op-opportunity, a few Macomb staff showed resistance and spoke negatively about providing college at the prison. In response, Oakland University got cold feet and withdrew interest.

Macomb prison already has a college teaching non-credited (Inside-Out) classes at the facility, so why such staff resistance? Fear of change and oppression! Macomb is a ghetto-ran prison with a ghetto mentality, so to speak. Staff have become accustomed to doing the minimal and eating popcorn while watching the daily insanity around them. Staff have gained a sense of comfort with the current classes and the prisoners who assist with them. A new degree program would mean more prisoners taking classes and different prisoners assisting with the classes–prisoners with degrees. These changes would drastically alter staff’s immediate environment as well as their oversight and expectations.

Ironically, many of the classes currently taught address social structures that cause oppression, and yet those involved with these classes perpetrate that Same oppression.  These Inside-Out classes teach that the traditional teaching method (lecture and memorization), called “banking system,” is broken,

the and the prisoner assistants down-play the value of college degrees. In the “ghetto” world of prison, college degrees may hold little value, but most prisoners will return to society. And in the real world, every year hundreds of thousands of people graduate with degrees, earn these degrees through the “banking system,” and become gainfully employed because of the degree. The Inside-Out classes are not only providing Macomb staff a reason to resist a new college bringing a degree program to the prison, but they are also installing belief systems in prisoners that perpetuate oppression.

Although prisons across the United States are racing to provide prisoners college degree programs, some prison officials are still resisting. Macomb Correctional Facility is an example of such resistance and structural oppression at work. Instead of providing degree programs that prisoners can use upon release to obtain jobs, Macomb prison staff and prisoners cling to the status quo and a culture that perpetuates oppression. Even though change can be difficult for many people, change is necessary to break the chains of oppress-ion, and the change can bring real life opportunities for prisoners.


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