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The Federal Prison in Terre Haute, pictured in 2001.

How Prison Education Is Changing In Indiana

Background

Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Prison in Terre Haute, pictured in 2001.

A program allowing Indiana prisoners to earn college degrees from behind bars produced its last class of graduates this past year.

Lawmakers barred offenders from receiving state scholarships in 2011, cutting off the primary source of funding for Indiana’s Correctional Education Program.

Once one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the nation, the educational program filled a critical need. Research has long shown offenders with post-secondary education are much less likely to return to prison.

But providing inmates with a college education was expensive. Indiana spent as much as $10 million annually, with payments going directly to the colleges and universities running the programs. At its peak, about 2,400 prisoners were enrolled in the Correctional Education Program.

Now the Department of Corrections is shifting its focus to vocational training programs. It costs about $7,000 to provide training to 15 inmates in a specific field, like coal mining. Other programs include landscaping, welding, culinary arts and HVAC repair.

Director of Education John Nally says the state needs more programs that help prepare inmates for life after they’re released. The vast majority of Indiana prisoners aren’t serving life sentences, and Nally says he’s never met anyone who wants to come back.

There’s a financial incentive for the state to keep inmates from reoffending, too. It costs $52.60 a day to incarcerate an adult in Indiana.

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Department of Corrections officials say it costs about $7,000 to run a program like this one for 15 people. Before the college degree programs ended, the state spent $7 to 10 million to educate 2,400 students. The state paid this funding directly to the DOC’s partner colleges.

It’s graduation day for 33-year-old prison inmate DJ Coomer at the Branchville Correctional Facility in Branchville, Ind. He’s wearing his beige prison uniform, not a graduation robe. He’ll have to hand over his diploma to the prison secretary before he leaves the graduation ceremony, and at the end of the day, he’ll still be in […]

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