There is an educational deficit in Illinois prisons. The educational opportunities that are in place exclude the majority of inmates.
My name is Flynard Miller. I am 39 years old and I’ve been incarcerated for more than 20 years. I’ve completed a lot of programs — more than 30 — here at Stateville Correctional Center (SCC). I’m a part of the few who have had the opportunity. From what I have witnessed, a lot of fellow inmates are restricted from education for various reasons, including their sentence, gang membership and any other reason the administration can think of.
One experience I can speak of is when I was called to be interviewed for the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP). I sat in a room with 40 other inmates waiting to be interviewed for a spot. They included a few inmates I knew from around prison. We were all aspiring college students. The problem was, only 10 of the 40 students would be accepted.
Jeffery Campbell, one of the inmates I knew, plus myself were among the 10 that were accepted into the program. There are approximately 1,200 inmates housed at SCC, according to the roll call count read daily over the officers’ communication system. Only 40 students are allowed in NPEP. Each cohort includes 20 students, and there are two cohorts.
Many inmates in Stateville are being denied access to an education. One such inmate is Joseph Eastling. Eastling is about my age and has also been incarcerated for more than 20 years. He is serving a life sentence.
“They keep telling me that they’re accepting inmates with the lowest sentence first,” Eastling said.
At Stateville, it sometimes feels like internal affairs (IA) runs the prison. They influence the hiring and firing of jobs and who gets accepted into programs. This puts a further strain on recidivism rates, because they prevent inmates from accessing opportunities.
Since 2015, Martin Ybarra, an inmate at SCC, has been denied access to a general education based on his alleged gang affiliation. Ybarra, a 32-year-old inmate convicted of murder, is serving a life sentence.
“When I applied for school, IA denied me stating that I’m in a gang so I’m not eligible for school,” he said.
According to a 2018 Center for American Progress (CAP) article titled “Education Opportunities in Prison are Key to Reducing Crime,” there are more than 2.3 million Americans currently incarcerated in the United States. 41%, or about 943,000 incarcerated individuals, do not hold a high school diploma.
Rodney Anderson is a 45 year-old inmate kitchen worker at SCC.
“I scored over the required score on the table test to be eligible for the GED program. They never called me to be a part of the class,” he said, expressing frustration at the prospect of not having access to the GED program.
These are the stories heard over and over again throughout the prison.
Correctional officers, government officials and tough-on-crime advocates might say that people in prison should be punished, not rewarded with an education. Others may argue that the educational programs in prison are adequate and that there need not be more programs. Maximum security inmates have a lot of time, so why educate them?
A few correctional officers have said to me, “You guys have to do your time, why worry about education?”
The reason education in prison is so important is because recidivism rates are lower amongst inmates with an education versus those without. According to a study by the U.S Sentencing Commission, “Individuals who did not complete high school were re-arrested at the highest rate — 60.4%, while those who had a college degree were rearrested at a rate of 19.1%.”
That is a 41.3-point swing.
Furthermore, a 2016 RAND Corporation report showed that individuals who participated in any type of educational program while in prison were 43% less likely to return to prison.
I have friends who have left prison that participated in educational programs while in prison. Most have not returned. Eric Blackmon did a correspondence course through Blackstone Law and earned his paralegal license. He was exonerated for his murder charges and is now a paralegal for the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
Since I’ve enrolled in the Northwestern Prison Education Program, I’ve seen how education builds confidence and changes lives. Guys that used to talk about drugs and selling drugs now talk about getting their bachelor’s degree. We are all more intelligent in the program than out. Learning from some of the top professors in the country has opened my eyes to the possibilities of a better future.
In the end, ignorance is a disease. Without an education there can be no rehabilitation. Prison needs educational programs as much as they need correctional officers.
The problem is that there are not enough educational programs to lower the crime rates for formerly incarcerated individuals. To improve the recidivism rate, the government must spend more on education in prison. The world would be a better place.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.