Saturday, January 3, 2009

Great Program Threatened by Ugly Reality



Q13 did a strong piece on the Post-prison Education Program, one of my favorite organizations, run by the fiery Ari Kohn. One day, this mild-mannered man is going to explode, and I along with him. Ari received the Change Agent of the Year Award at the 2008 Real Change annual breakfast. One of the reasons I admire prisoners advocates so much is that they almost never win, but the whole time, their faces are pressed up against the glass. As bottom-up perspectives on America go, theirs is a breathtaking view.

State Senator Adam Kline, who appears in this news story speaking in favor of Ari's program, is the exceptional legislator who understands that policies which constantly grind the poor into the dust often produce blow-back and are not in society's best interest. But most lawmakers are cowards, driven by fear and responsive to their fearful, ill-informed, constituencies, and as any amateur psychologist knows, fear is the root of hate. That's politics in America: ugly as a monkfish and twice as dumb.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you beleive that cognitive restructuring courses are equally as important as higher education for those offenders who are interested?

I work for the Department of Corrections as a Community Corrections Officer. I hear a lot of negative talk from co-workers on a daily basis with regards to how much offenders "cost" tax payers- about how much "stuff" they get paid for them. About how they are criminals and they dont "deserve" anything especially a college education. Well, let me say that I DO NOT AGREE with that line of reasoning. I absolutely think that education sets people free from not truely and deeply knowing any better. Education is key for change and to reduce recidivism. I believe that if tax or private monies are going to be spent in the criminal justice system then this is a golden place to invest. It is minimal investment with maximum return. Lets face it- sometimes the only difference between you and an offender is and educated mind.

Most people on my caseload are uninterested in a higher education. Most want a quick fix- to learn a trade or to start thier own business. OR, worst case scenario- get on wellfare and call it good. I have met 1 person over the past 9 months out of the 65 or so that I worked with who has expressed a real interest in getting a college degree. SO it doesnt seem like many people have thier sights set in that direction okay and I certainly cannot sanction anyone to go to school! BUT, I can get them into cognitive restructuring courses.

These courses teach about thinking errors and how to spot them. Moral Recognition Therapy, Franklin Reality Model, Thinking for Change... Studies have shown that step bases cognitive courses have reduced recidivism by those who complete the class by 8%. 8%!

Now, Im not saying that we should do away with the Prisoner Education Program. I believe in education and hold strong to the "dont hate me-educate me" philosophy. But perhaps a good way to generate interst and hype, both for offenders to participate and donors to contribute, is to get offenders into the cognitive courses and towards the end suggest to them that they get a higher education while they are in an introspective and rational frame of mind. Then provide them with information about the Program. That would get more people to participate and bottom line raise the number of success stories- which would gain more attention and support. Media would gobble it up and criminologists would drool!

I know that you are opperating under a sense of urgency right now what with the program's funding threatening an end... Im just thinking about a way to bring it back or boost it up over the next 2-5 years. It seems to me that there just is not enough interest in the Program and the solution would be to get more offenders involved. More success stories equals more funding.

arikohn said...

Casie, In response to your comment about the Post-Prison Education Program the following are a few things you might want to consider:

1). "A recent study (meta-analysis) shows that inmates with at least two years of college have a 10% re-arrest rate, compared to a national re-arrest rate of approximately 60% [Center on Crime, Communities, and Culture], Cathryn A. Chappell, "Post-Secondary Correctional Education and Recidivism." With the current rate of recidivism reported as being 67.5% by the U.S. Department of Justice why would you even write about not supporting post-secondary education -- something that is documented in compelling meta-analyses to reduce recidivism by more than 50% (to about 10% to 12%).

2). In an 11-year period at the Washington State Penitentiary 250 prisoners earned 313 degrees and certificates from Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University. As of June 2006 the recidivism rate for that group (verified by OBTS) was twelve (12) percent.

3). Using a recent student who the Secretary of the DOC and I were with at a recent presentation at the Monroe Correctional Complex as an example: For 11 years, this 32-year old man went to prison, received the best the DOC had to offer in programs, but continually recidivated -- resulting in his return to prison with new charges five (5) times. We met him in June 2008 in a prison at Monroe. This time when he released, as a result of him applying to the Post-Prison Education Program instead of being released with no job, no money, no home, the following is what happened with him: He released on a Monday in September; the very next day we had him at Pierce College in Advising and Admissions, and on the third day (Wednesday immediately following release) he was a full-time student at Pierce College. Earlier this month, he received his grades for the fall quarter: 3.94 GPA. On Tuesday, 16 January 2008 he returned to the Monroe Correctional Complex not as a prisoner who had recidivated, but as a Dean's List student to let current prisoners (many of whom know him) and DOC staff, including Secretary Vail and Superintendent Frakes, know that there is hope for prisoners and former prisoners and that post-secondary education can turn their lives around and provide for former prisoners to live the same kind of life we all want for our children and loved ones. Yesterday, I asked him if he could return to the Monroe Correctional Complex for another presentation, an educational fair this Tuesday at WSR; he told me he could not - because he is too busy studying.

Ari Kohn, President
Post-Prison Education Program
Post Office Box 45038
Seattle, WA 98145-0038

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