Besides being a big money-saver (see earlier post: Education in Prison: Saving Money) another positive aspect of implementing education programs in prisons again, as proposed by Andrew Cuomo (click here to see the NPR report), is the quality of life that it brings to the families of the inmates.
It Shows That Education and Skill Building are Important
By helping to change the personal culture of these inmates by allowing them to receive a formal education and / or learn a trade, this underlines the importance of education and skill acquisition to the inmate's entire social circle. When they are released, they then have the ability to exercise their knowledge and skills to do positive things for their family and community, like starting their own businesses and helping support the local economy and their own families without resorting to criminal activities. When people around them see this positive change, it can garner a hope in them that they don't have to resort to violence or crime to make their way in life. As many times as that message is given verbally by someone who's been self-employed for the past ten years and just so happened to have gone to some high school or community center in the local area decades before, it has a much more meaningful impact when I actually watch somebody make the transition from being a criminal, then an inmate with few prospects in life, and on to someone who actually enhances the community around them.
It Can Give Parents the Tools to Set Healthy, Positive Examples for Their Children
When a father, for example, goes to prison for committing some form of theft, his children see this. Even if they are not sure of the exact nature of their father's absence, they realize that he was there and now he isn't. I have come across multiple daughters who have a hard time having long-term romantic relationships with men because of their father's intermittent absences due to incarceration. All throughout their relationship there's an undercurrent of paranoia that the man isn't going to be there one day, just like their father. Sometimes the women will even do little things to push the guy away like avoiding contact or picking fights when they do talk. Guys can go through the same things with women, or even with other men. They are distrustful and suspicious of their motives and loyalty, all because the only male role model they ever had was so unreliable.
So, imagine if we could increase the chances of today's children being able to see their fathers come out of prison and stay out. Being able to spend the rest of their lives free and in the presence of their child can allow time for the father to try to explain why they were absent for period of time. This honest communication about the incarceration can be therapeutic and lead to a healing of the relationship that can only be had with openness and time.
When this understanding of the situation and reunion with the inmate is accomplished, the children become much less likely to engage in criminal acts and perpetuate what may be a cycle in that family of people committing crimes and being sent off to prison. Any program that helps the inmate grow while they do their time and then allows them a fresh start with new, healthy (academic, trade, or social) skills when they leave can help shift the dynamic of how they view themselves, how their family sees them, and how invested they are in the community in which they live.
Northeast Ohio Prisoners Trade Crime for Culinary Arts
Tim Zaun, Yahoo! Voices
Go to Prison, Get a Free Education? Not Cool, Cuomo
Kali Z., The 21st-Century 20-Something
UDC Prison Education
Utah Department of Corrections
College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off
David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler, Forbes