Several of my fellow Citrus County residents advocate the theory that educating incarcerated men and women only results in smarter criminals upon release from prison. The money spent, they say, could be put to better use in other programs and government projects. However, statistics following release from prison support the advantages of providing educational opportunities to inmates. We must recognize the need of communities to welcome back those who have served the time for the crime and honor their rights as restored citizens to pursue that which provides a fulfilling life. A recent amendment to our state’s Constitution supported the overwhelming will of Florida voters to reinstate voting rights to those who have served their sentences, yet the Legislature led by partisan politics is attempting to circumvent this amendment.
I am a strong advocate for education for everyone. A high school diploma is not enough. Only continued technical or college instruction will provide the tools necessary to gainful employment and competitive skills in the labor market. The failure to provide an affordable education to all young people has resulted in stunning statistics showing the United States trailing other industrialized nations of the world in areas of societal stability, happiness, and productivity. We, the wealthiest nation on earth, cannot provide for our citizens a healthy lifestyle free from the fear of unemployment or neighborhood violence. Our nation is depleting the future of its young people due to its unwillingness to spend a mere modicum of its wealth on education enabling economic advancement for the socially or economically disadvantaged.
That would include prison inmates who have made mistakes, erred on judgement. Due to an unfair for-profit prison system, the USA has highest rate of incarcerated men and women in the industrialized world. A controversial approach has been undertaken by the state of New York, a state which has 53,400 inmates. BPI (Bard Prison Initiative) has 300 of these inmates enrolled in a program funded by private donations to provide college degrees. Of its graduates only 4% return to prison after parole compared to a 50% rate overall. Opponents cite the expense to taxpayers, but this is not government-funded. Opponents claim educated convicts will become smarter criminals; this also is proving to be untrue. PBS has aired a 4 part documentary, ‘COLLEGE BEHIND BARS”, addressing a novel solution. We have a choice – spend the money on education or spend the money on prisons.