Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Inmates in Washington will be able to earn a community or technical college degree behind bars

A law that takes effect July 23 in Washington state will allow qualifying inmates to earn a community-college degree while behind bars, Jerry Cornfield reports for the Daily Herald in Everett. The state has helped inmates earn a degree once they get out of prison, but the new program will be for inmates within five years of release that do not already have a post-secondary degree. Many of the state's prisons and community colleges are in rural areas.

Lawmakers wrote: “Recognizing that there is a positive correlation between education opportunities and reduced recidivism, it is the intent of the legislature to offer appropriate associate degree opportunities to inmates designed to prepare the inmate to enter the workforce." The bill passed the Senate 46-0 and the House 78-20 and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Kristyn Whisman, dean of corrections education at Edmonds Community College, which offers classes at Monroe Correctional Complex, told Conrfield, “It is a very big step. The trend in research shows the further along the college pathway a person gets before they leave a facility, the more successful they will be when released. As much opportunity that we can provide, the better ultimately for the community."

State prisons long have offered classes to help inmates get a GED or learn vocational skills, but this is the first program where they will earn a degree, Cornfield writes. From July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, the state's "community colleges served 8,960 men and women incarcerated in the state’s 12 adult prisons, according to a January report compiled by the state board. Thirteen community colleges participated under a $16.8 million contract between the corrections department and state board."

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