Why Educate Criminals?

REGINALD C. HILL

January 15, 1992|By REGINALD C. HILL

JESSUP. — Jessup -- Many people couldn't care less about whether or not convicts receive an education while in prison. But one day, 95 percent of the men currently confined will be returning to their communities as free men.

Frankly, I would rather have an educated ex-offender living next-door to me than an uneducated one. What could such a person realistically contribute to the well-being of his community? Meaningful employment will surely be beyond his reach, and the little money he might able to make legitinmately will probably be insufficient to sustain him economically. Education is not only the key to the ex-offender's economic health but to the prosperity of the community itself.

Many of the people entering the Division of Correctional Services are dropouts, typically with less than a 7th-grade education level. This is reflected in the Test of Adult Basic Education that inmates are compelled to take upon entering prison. Test scores show a direct correlation between an inadequate education and crime, drugs and doing time. This devastating link must be broken. To deny educational benefits to those convicted of felonies is in effect resentencing the offender in another prison term.

Dr. Steve Steurer, the correctional education coordinator for the Division of Corrections has written that cuts in the prison budget may lead to more violence in prisons. Those sentiments are shared by a host of inmates. Inmates receive 10 days a month for attending school. These 10 days are subtracted from the inmates' overall sentence.

The inmates also receive a subsidy of $20 for attending school. For a large portion of the men incarcerated this is their only source of income. Can you imagine what would happen if this income was abruptly stopped?

Without an education as a beacon of hope pandemonium will surely manifest itself in the prisons' internal operations. When hope is extinguished among confined men, attitudes will undergo a radical change for the worst. Internal conflicts are inescapable, there will be more fights, stabbings and outright hostilities toward the staff. People will commence to steal from each other and take advantage of the weak. In short, these institutions will become as living jungles, where the strong will survive and the weak will succumb.

The future doesn't look too promising, to say the least. The need for education is absolutely paramount; without it there is no hope. And once you deprive a man of hope you should prepare yourself for helluva fight. I don't think that the governor realizes the effect his actions are likely to have on the men and women currently incarcerated in this state. He is, in short, contributing to the future crime problem.

Where are these people going to get the assistance they need to overcome their deficiencies? The possibility of earning an eighth-grade equivalency, then a G.E.D. certificate, then possibly going to college, was the carrot before the cart. The governor doesn't realize that he has kicked the cart and the carrot to the curb.

Can society afford to have ex-offenders returning to the community no better off than they were upon entering Correctional Services? This is the question that must be addressed. We cannot afford this injustice; doing time by and of itself is one thing, but to deny the semblance of an education is the apex of absurdity.

Reginald C. Hill is an inmate of the Maryland House of Correction.

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