Report: Federal funds untapped to educate CT prison inmates

The Bridgeport Correctional Center on North Avenue in Bridgeport.

Connecticut could be doing more to help inmates and those recently released from prison get postsecondary education which could cut recidivism, according to a report released by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

The state was identified in “Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System,” as offering one of four core “building blocks” that helps inmates successfully integrate back into the community with stable jobs, which also fuels the economy, the report’s authors said.

The center culled information from all 50 states while looking at the four factors that likely led to stable lives for those recently released from prison: how education for incarcerated people is financed; restrictions on who is allowed to participate in educational programs while incarcerated; what types of offerings were available in prisons; and what types of incentives and supports were provided to those who are receiving an education while incarcerated or recently incarcerated.

No state in the country offered all four core “building blocks,” the report concluded. But some states offered more tools than others to get people successfully reintegrated into the community with good jobs by providing opportunities for education while incarcerated.

“There’s not just a benefit to the individual, but to the community and the economy,” said Josh Weber, deputy director of juvenile justice for the center. “There is so much evidence that providing an education is more cost-effective” than the cost of entering the criminal justice system repeatedly, Weber said.

Connecticut offered limited support for people on parole by providing information on the application process to enter school and by allowing those on parole to go to school full-time rather than work as a stipulation of their parole, said Leah Bacon, policy analyst for the center.

“The parole granting agency does allow people to substitute postsecondary education for work,” Bacon said. “In some states you can’t substitute school for work.”

While the Connecticut Department of Correction offers an array of vocational programming within its prisons and inmates can attain an associate degree and access college-level courses offered by Wesleyan University, Yale University and Trinity College, there are no formal bachelor’s degree programs, Bacon said.

There are also no incentive programs such as specialized housing or early release in Connecticut for those who seek an education while in prison, the study said.

Nationally about two-thirds of incarcerated people have a high-school diploma or credential while only 6 percent have associate, bachelor’s or graduate degrees, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.

The authors of Laying the Groundwork found a 43 percent reduction in recidivism for those who were able to gain access to any type of education while in prison. The unemployment rate for those recently incarcerated is about the same as it was during the Great Depression – 27 percent, the study said.

But inmates who received any type of educational programming in prison were 13 percent more likely to get jobs when they were released than those who had no educational programing, the center said.

Connecticut’s one core “building block” was in the category of educational financing, the study found. The state uses the federal Second Chance Pell Pilot Program designed to allow people who were incarcerated greater educational opportunities by giving eligible colleges and universities funding to deliver programs, the authors said.

However the state does not use all of the funding available for such programs. It doesn’t utilize funding from the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act which has been available since 2006 for incarcerated individuals to acquire skills, credentials, certificates or an associate degree.

Connecticut also doesn’t access funding from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which allows states to use up to 20 percent of their workforce development funding on educational programs for incarcerated individuals, the report said.

“These are federal funding streams that aren’t being used,” Weber said. “There doesn’t have to be an increased cost. The state can expand by taking advantage of the funding that’s already available.”

The report also found Connecticut has barriers for those who have been incarcerated and who want to receive a postsecondary education. Seven out of 10 state universities ask potential students on their application to reveal their criminal history, Bacon said.

“Just by asking about someone’s criminal history is a disincentive,” Bacon said. “People walk away without completing the application.”

The purpose of the study was to provide each state with a blueprint to increase educational opportunities for those who are incarcerated, which would then increase their likelihood of success when they are released, Weber said.

“We’ve done the states’ homework for them,” Weber said. “We’ve offered a profile for each state. Now it’s up to state leaders to take this seriously.”

Connecticut Media Group