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Len Sipes: This is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re broadcasting live from The Correctional Education Conference here in Charleston, West Virginia. We have five hundred people from not only all over the country, but all over the world – over five hundred people who are here to discuss correctional education. As you’re well aware – those of us within the criminal justice system – there are entire states that are cutting out their correctional education programs, vocational programs, educational programs and there are other states cutting back because they feel they have no choice because of budgets. We’re here to discuss what’s going on throughout the country – new and innovative ways to deliver correctional education programs.
The research does seem to be pretty clear that the better prepared they are upon release from the prison systems, the better they do in society, which means that fewer people are victimized by crime and the less money the taxpayers have to put out to put them back into the prison systems. So it’s a win-win situation for everybody. We’re going to be a doing a series of five-minute interviews, short interviews. First up is Susan Lockwood. She is the Director of Juvenile Education in a Midwest state and she is also the President of the Council of State Directors for the Correctional Educational Association talking about computer-based learning, computer-learning skills.
We’re talking to William Byers. He is from the state of Arkansas. He is a School Superintendent for the correctional system there in the state of Arkansas, where they found the 25% difference in recidivism, which is pretty significant. We have Denise Justice. Denise is the CEA Past President and she is a School Superintendent for an entire correctional system in the state. She received their President’s Award for her relentless pursuit of correctional educational and she’s talking about how to promote correctional education throughout the United States to get everybody to understand that the payoffs can be significant. Steve Steurer is up for the next five-minute interview. He is the Executive Director of the Correctional Educational Association. His job is to provide an overview, provide a national perspective as to where we currently are with correctional education.
And finally, the last person up is Cindy Borden. She with a company called Northstar Correctional Systems and she under contract for the Correctional Education Association. They did a four-year piece of research in terms of school programming, post-secondary education, collegiate education and in essence the people who they followed up in a two-year time period, one-third of these individuals were enrolled in college and three-quarters were employed, which is a pretty doggone good piece of research or statistics in terms of correctional educational programs and their results. So, again, short five-minute interviews starting with Susan Lockwood and we hope you enjoy the program.
Len Sipes: This is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re broadcasting live today from The Correctional Education Association Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Quite frankly, ladies and gentleman I’ve been to correctional conferences throughout the country and Tim Barnes and I have done our fair share of conference support and this is one of the largest correctional conferences I’ve seen. It’s principally people who are involved in correctional education, correctional programs, who have an interest in the whole concept of a fund of reentry and we’re here today talking to a variety of people. First up is Susan Lockwood. She is the Director of Juvenile Education at a Midwest Department of Corrections. But here in her capacity she is President of the Council of State Directors for the Correctional Education Association and, Susan, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Susan Lockwood: Thank you for having me.
Len Sipes: One of the interesting things here, Susan, is this whole concept of long-distance education, the correctional education. There’s a lot of states out there they’re budgets have been decreasing. In fact, one state in particular – California – pretty much wiped out correctional education. So different people are saying are there ways of doing this differently. Are there new and unique ways using unique technologies to do a better job, to stretch the tax-paid dollar as much as possible? And one of the things that I find interesting in what you’re doing is it’s GED in computer-based curriculum and testing, where your individuals that are involved in this program, what they’re doing is they’re learning computer skills. They’re learning how to type. They’re learning how to word-process for them to be comfortable with computer learning. So this is the process of teaching them how to take the GED test but to do it by computer, correct, do it by long-distance learning?
Susan Lockwood: Correct. That’s why we’re going to have to drive our curriculum since we’re anticipating the fact that the GED testing service is going to move to that computer application of… the application of taking the test by computer and a lot of our funders are not ready to do that because they lack those skills. So, yes, we would have to adjust our curriculum and prepare them in order to do that.
Len Sipes: There are a lot of people out there who are still computer-illiterate. I mean…
Susan Lockwood: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Whether you’re in prison or out of prison. I mean, there’s…I spoke to a gentleman the other day who just absolutely refuses to open a computer keyboard.
Susan Lockwood: Right.
Len Sipes: He’s well-educated. He’s smart, but he is at that age where he’s just not familiar with it. So this is a scary thing for some people.
Susan Lockwood: Sure and a lot of our offenders, especially some of our older offenders who have been incarcerated for long periods of time, obviously, are not technology-literate and so it can be barrier for them if they wanted to take a computer-based test.
Len Sipes: Right. So the whole idea here is to get them comfortable with a computer to the point where they can take their GED test. Now, GED curriculums are an integral part of prison education. We want them to be literate. We want them to know how to read. We want them to get their eighth grade certificate, their reading certificates, their GED certificates. The GED certificate’s sort of at the top of that ladder, correct?
Susan Lockwood: Sure. In our state it serves as a market signal…
Len Sipes: Right.
Susan Lockwood: For whether or not a student is ready or a person is ready to enter post-secondary job training or even an employment situation.
Len Sipes: It’ll make all the difference in the world in terms of that offender. I mean…
Susan Lockwood: Sure.
Len Sipes: If he or she has a GED, he or she suddenly becomes a marketable, far more marketable than without it.
Susan Lockwood: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: So the concept of doing the computer testing is you have to get them comfortable with the keyboard. You have to get them comfortable with the keystrokes.
Susan Lockwood: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: And there’s a lot of work that goes into that.
Susan Lockwood: Right and then there’s also portions of the test that involve writing an essay and so the student would need to be able to word-process to be able to actually type that in and within the time limit of taking the test.
Len Sipes: Now, is there ever the possibility of being instructed… taking your instructions for the GED through a computer or at a long-distance learning or is that in the future?
Susan Lockwood: Sure. There are lots of companies already that offer different curricular that can be delivered via computer. So that obviously would be something that lots of states are looking at, to be able to load that software into a lab and let students have that opportunity to improve themselves and grow academically through a lot of the coursework that would be on the computer.
Len Sipes: Right. One of the questions that was asked of me is why can’t there be somebody sitting in the state of Kansas or, you know, and teaching people in Alaska? Why isn’t that possible?
Susan Lockwood: Well, that would be possible, although, having experienced that kind of a situation myself via distance learning, I think that being on the receiving end of that instruction it’s really more beneficial to not only have that piece, but also to have a person in the room with the students right there on site where they can actually ask the questions, discuss and it’s often a lot more…
Len Sipes: Powerful.
Susan Lockwood: Yeah, definitely.
Len Sipes: Sure. Okay and before we go, before we end this particular part of the program, I do want to touch upon the benefits to society. A person gets a GED and what happens?
Susan Lockwood: Well, the whole thought would be that as part of a process of gaining employment that, again, the GED would be a market signal and so it just allows this person to have an opportunity to be successful and outside the fence, to be able to go out, perhaps get a job, perhaps get further job training and once that a person becomes employed, our research has shown that it impacts recidivism; that employment is…
Len Sipes: Right. There are fewer crimes.
Susan Lockwood: Right.
Len Sipes: There are fewer crimes as a result of it.
Susan Lockwood: Exactly.
Len Sipes: And it eases the tax-paid burden because….
Susan Lockwood: Exactly.
Len Sipes: They’re out there paying taxes instead of taking taxes.
Susan Lockwood: Instead of being a tax liability, they’re paying taxes.
Len Sipes: Our guest today has been Susan Lockwood. She is the Director of Juvenile Education for a state in the Midwest, but in her capacity today she is the President of the Council of State Directors, again, at the Correctional Education Association Conference here in Charleston, West Virginia. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.
Len Sipes: From the Correctional Education Association Conference in Charleston, West Virginia, I’m really pleased to have William Byers by our microphones. He’s the Superintendent of the Arkansas Correctional School System. He’s in charge of the whole shebang. He’s on the Board of the Correctional Education Association and is also Regional Director with the Correctional Education Association And one of the things that Mr. Byers was talking about – Superintendent Byers was talking about – was the fact that he has a 25% reduction in the rate of recidivism for those people who obtain GEDs. Am I right?
William Byers: That is correct, yes.
Len Sipes: Well that’s incredible, a 25% reduction. Most of the research on reentry programs will basically give 10-20%. Twenty percent seems to be on the outer reaches of the reduction of recidivism. You’re doing 25%. Why is that?
William Byers: Well, we have a very successful program. Number One: We require everyone who comes into the Department of Correction who does not have a high school diploma or GED to attend school while they’re incarcerated. Also, I might add that the Board of Correction is also our school board and they are very supportive of our program. Education, they place a high priority on education. The teachers know that. The students know that. The inmates know that. So I think that’s one thing that contributes to the success. Not only that, but we find that those who get out not only recidivated at a lower level than those who don’t earn a high school diploma or GED, but they also get a better paying job and they’re more likely to have a job.
Len Sipes: Right and they’re more likely to keep a job probably.
William Byers: Exactly, exactly.
Len Sipes: But the interesting thing is that, we in the United States, we’re having a struggle now with correctional education and with reentry programs and vocational educational programs. There are some states that are giving more money towards it and some states that are cutting it out because of their budget situation. The states are in a dire budget situation. What do you say to citizens – somebody sitting out there, somebody from the Governor’s Office, somebody from the PTA – to convince them that correctional education is worthwhile, that it’s in the average citizen’s best interests to do this?
William Byers: I don’t care what studies you look at. You can look at them from the free world, from the prison situation. The bottom line is education helps. It helps society. If you look at populations, the more educated the populous is the higher the level of income and that’s true of the general population; it’s also true of the inmate population. The more educated they are, the better they’ll behave in prison, the more likely they’ll get out and stay out. So it’s beneficial to society if individuals can get an education while they’re incarcerated.
Len Sipes: Being a correctional officer is one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs of the face of the earth.
William Byers: It is.
Len Sipes: These programs…this is very rarely ever discussed, the fact that these programs keep prisoners peaceful.
William Byers: Yes. We deal with 21 wardens around the state in Arkansas and they will tell you that they want education in their unit because not only does it provide something for the inmates to do, but it provides something positive for them to do.
Len Sipes: Sure. You want to have problems, then give them nothing to do. Let them play basketball. Let them sit in their bunks. That’s a dangerous prison. If you have programs in the prison, that’s a safe, sane prison.
William Byers: Plus, they’re around educators. They’re around educated people who mentor them and affect them in a positive way just by being around them.
Len Sipes: How many people do you graduate a year from the GED program? I was very impressed by that.
William Byers: In the state of Arkansas we have over a thousand inmates a year to earn their GED and that compares to…the inmate population in Arkansas is about fifteen thousand, so we have a high participation and we have a lot of people who walk out with a GED.
Len Sipes: Now, we use the word ‘recidivism’ rather loosely. What we’re talking about is fewer people being mugged, fewer people being victims of crime because inmates get GED programs. They go on to live… they have the chance to live a more successful life, make more money, to be in that job longer, which translates into fewer crimes, which translates into individuals paying taxes and not being a tax burden.
William Byers: And that’s something you can’t measure. We say that they’re taxpayers instead of being a tax burden, but also you can’t measure somebody not being mugged or somebody not being raped. That’s one of the benefits that you can’t put a figure on.
Len Sipes: Well, that will be the final word from you. William Byers, B-Y-E-R-S, William Byers – he is the Superintendent of the Arkansas Correctional School System. Thank you very much for being with us.
William Byers: Thank you for having me.
Len Sipes: This is DC Public Safety. We’re at The Correctional Education Conference in Charleston, West Virginia and at our microphones today is a person with a really unique last name: Denise Justice. She is CEA Past President. She is a School Superintendent – and I love all the Superintendents that we’re interviewing today – for a correctional system somewhere in the United States. She received the President’s Award today from the Correctional Education Association and I asked somebody as you why she got the award. It was for relentless pursuit or advocacy for correctional education. So I figured she’d be the right person to ask. Denise, why in the name of God do we do correctional education? A lot of people are out there. There are a lot of other priorities. There’s the elderly. There are people out of work. I mean, there are a lot of issues in the United States today. Why should anybody care about correctional education?
Denise Justice: There are a lot of issues in the United States and we are clear about that, but when we have an incarcerated person in the United States, they are about 99.9% sure that they are going to get released at some point in time.
Len Sipes: At some point in time.
Denise Justice: At some point in time. Very few people go to prison and never ever come out again and when they do come out, they don’t move far away from each one of us. They’re in our neighbourhood. They’re five minutes away from us. They’re next door, wherever the case may be. They’re going to come home. Many of them were incarcerated because they did not have the skills – educational skills, employment skills – in order to be able to be a taxpaying citizen.
Len Sipes: The research says that we interact with people caught up in the criminal justice system every single day whether we go to a restaurant, whether we go to the auto store, whether we go to the tire stores, whether we go…it doesn’t matter. We are encountering individuals who have been caught up in a criminal justice system every single day. So if they’re constantly around us, doesn’t it make sense to be sure that when they come out of the prison system they’re as best prepared as they possibly can be to live a productive life?
Denise Justice: Absolutely because it does save us money. If they can come out and get a job and pay taxes and stay out of the criminal justice system because that costs taxpayers a lot of money, too.
Len Sipes: Sure.
Denise Justice: Then we are actually saving ourselves money. We also…you need to think about do you want your neighbor to have some skills to be able to get a job and pay those taxes or do you want to force them into a situation where all they can do is go out and cause another crime? And maybe the crime is robbing your house, taking your VCR, your TV.
Len Sipes: So what we’re talking about is lessening the crime rate for individuals listening to this program. They become safer because of correctional education programs.
Denise Justice: Absolutely. You can look at any recidivism study that you want to and if you don’t know, recidivism is basically the rate at which people come back to prison or come back into the justice field and you can look and see no matter what study is done, it tells you that people who are involved in education or getting employable skills are going to be less likely at whatever rate – there are different rates, you know – 10%, 20%, 30% differentials, but whatever it is, education makes them less likely to come back to prison.
Len Sipes: Well, the guest before you, William Byers, Superintendent of the Arkansas Correctional School System, I mean he claimed a 25% reduction. That’s large. I mean in a world where you’re happy if you get 7% and you’re satisfied if you get 10% and you’re ecstatic is you get 20%. By heavens, 25% is a huge difference. I mean, if you have seven hundred thousand people come home every year in this country from prison, 25% of that lopped off, 25% of these people going on to be taxpayers instead of tax burdens. That saves states millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, in the long run in terms of construction costs, in terms of operating costs. It saves taxpayers a lot of money.
Denise Justice: Absolutely. We found in the 80s, a lot of states got into prison-building booms. They tried to build themselves out of prison overcrowding and what we discovered was it was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you build it, they will come. So we were building double and triple the number of prisons maybe we had in our state and instead of getting down to a 100% capacity in our facilities we still found ourselves 125%, 150%, 200% over capacity.
Len Sipes: Regardless as to how many prisons we built, they were still overcrowded.
Denise Justice: Regardless of how many prisons, absolutely, and so now we are looking more at the fact that what we need to do is to start the day that people come into our system and to start planning for their reentry, looking at getting them their GED if they have not completed a GED or a diploma. Looking at getting them career tech skills and employability skills so that they can go out dealing with their addictions, dealing with their anger, issues of child abuse and all of those areas and getting them ready to go back out on the street. Getting them to know what linkages is out there that can help them. Whatever areas they needed to stay out.
Len Sipes: Okay. So quick answer on this one because we need a quick answer. We’re just about out of time. So the Correctional Education Association is designed to advocate that throughout the country, is to bring likeminded people…there are over five hundred people at this conference today and over the course of the next couple of days. That’s a large gathering, especially in these economic times. So everybody’s coming together to do what?
Denise Justice: Everyone’s coming together – particularly at our international conferences – is to come together to share problems that you’re having, to come up with solutions, share solutions you maybe came up with at home, to find materials and resources that we can use because of budgetary cuts.
Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, my guest today has been Denise Justice. She is the Correctional Education Association Past President. She’s the Superintendent of a Correctional School System for a state and the award recipient today for the President’s Award at the Correctional Education Association Conference. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.
This is DC Public Safety. I continue to be your host Leonard Sipes as we broadcast from The Correctional Education Association Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. I really have a lot of pleasure in reintroducing because he’s been to our microphones before, Steve Stuerer. He is the Executive Director of the Correctional Education Association – Steve, welcome back to DC Public Safety.
Steve Stuerer: Thank you for having me again.
Len Sipes: It’s a really interesting conference. Again, Tim and I have been to conferences…Tim Barnes and I have been to correctional conferences throughout the country and we’ve been to government conferences throughout the country dealing with social media and this is by far one of the largest conferences I’ve seen. You have well over five hundred people in attendance.
Steve Stuerer: Well, we’ve been very lucky. West Virginia is terrifically supportive of correctional education and people, I think, the people are bringing themselves together and it’s a tough time. I think it’s actually drawing us together rather than pulling us apart and pulling us down.
Len Sipes: Well, it is a tough time and I do want to emphasize that this is a national conference not necessarily a West Virginia conference. You have people from all over the country. We have a couple of people from around the world and education programs in correctional facilities, correctional systems, throughout the country they’re hurting. California sliced out the entire education program. You have different states that are cutting back significantly.
So what you’re going to do for me today is to put it in perspective. Where are we in terms of correctional education in the United States – whether it’s GED programs, whether it’s vocational programs? Where are we? Are we gaining? A lot of states are saying, “Hey, the way to reduce recidivism and control our costs is to put more programs on the table.” Some states are saying, “I’m sorry. We can’t afford it. We’re in a budget jam.” Where are we? Put it in perspective for me.
Steve Stuerer: On a national level, we’re losing. We just lost all our post-secondary money that we had from the federal government – $17.2m was going out to the states on a formula basis. That’s gone. Not likely to be getting that back any time soon. Some of the states still support post-secondary education – vocational primarily, but with credits – through state funding of various sorts or some inmates actually pay their own way if their families can afford it. So we lost that. GED, we’re hanging in there, but we have a whole new challenge because GED is going on computer and within two years it will be computer-based.
So that’s going to present a real problem financially for a lot of systems trying to retool. So the whole basic education, GED, it’s holding in there, but we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to meet this GED challenge; vocational education, probably losing there, too. The Perkins Act, which has been around for decades, is being severely cut. So a lot of that money would go into corrections as well as into the community. Vocational programs, we’re cut with that. So I think generally speaking in just about every state we’re having some real stress.
Len Sipes: Is that why you have such a good turnout at the conference, though? I mean, I see a lot of enthusiasm and the people that I’m talking to today certainly aren’t down in the mouth. They are enthusiastic about what it is that they do. They’re hopeful about what it is they do. They see the value in terms of what it is they do. So there’s a dichotomy here. On one side, I agree with you that we are struggling in terms of maintaining the number of programs and the quality of programs, but on the flipside is the enthusiasm I see from the membership of the Correctional Education Association. They know the value and they want to move forward.
Steve Stuerer: Yeah, I think it’s kind of descriptive of our membership to see that kind of enthusiasm. They’re used to working in tough circumstances. They’re used to working with people who no one else wants to work with; who have given up on them. So when problems come along, they can gripe and groan just like everybody else and some of them just give up and shake their heads and wring their hands, but I think most of the people respond accordingly: Well, we don’t have much to begin with. Let’s figure out how we can do it a different way. Let’s see if we can find some more resources. Let’s see if…
Len Sipes: Is there a different way of doing it?
Steve Stuerer: Well, we’re trying to see what different ways can be done. I mean, with the GED, for example, we’re going to work very closely with the GED Testing Service, which is owned jointly by GED Testing and American Council of Education and Pearson VUE, which is a company that does a lot of vocational assessment. So we’re going to see. There might be ways to deliver things a little bit differently. At CEA one of the things we do is we train teachers to train inmates to be tutors and what started out was a kind of collaboration between Maryland and Ohio ideas, the concept of tutor training, we put it into a national program.
There’s like six states now that we’ve gone in, we’ve trained thirty… anywhere from thirty to eighty teachers at a time in three-day seminars, how to train inmates to be their aids and most states will allow inmates to act as aids. In Ohio we’re…in the last five years or so, I think it is, they’ve trained over thirty-five hundred inmates who in turn work with the teacher and tutor others in the classroom, so they’re not running around in some disorganized fashion. It’s a little army, so to speak. In Louisiana, they’re about three years into this. They’ve trained over five hundred inmates. In fact, the job is one of the best in the system. Inmates have to be highly qualified to do it and then they get some special privileges. They might get sent to another institution.
Len Sipes: So we really are squeezing that rock for…
Steve Stuerer: We’re squeezing it…
Len Sipes: We’re being as innovative as possible, but one of the other…a question I asked to another person at our microphones this afternoon was why can’t you have a person centrally located somewhere in the United States teaching inmates any place else in the United States through a long-distance learning?
Steve Stuerer: Well, you could possibly do that with some of the folks. I mean, a lot of folks do things online, for example, but I daresay, because I teach online for the University of Maryland University College; it’s an open university and some students have a great deal of difficulty because a lack of sufficient writing skills, reading skills, etc. They are much better served with some face-to-face assistance, whether it’s a mentor or hopefully a teacher, but people need assistance who have a lot of severe deficits and the correctional population, typically, come in…
Len Sipes: Is filled with people who have severe deficits when they come to the education…
Steve Stuerer: All kinds of deficits and complications.
Len Sipes: But before we end the program and we’re in our final minute of the program, I do want to get around to the results because people listen to this program and they’re going to say to themselves, “Okay, you’re the Executive Director of the Correctional Education Association. Sorry, Mr. Executive Director, we’ve got elderly people. We’ve got school kids to take care of. We have so many people unemployed and now you want me to give money and support to this whole concept of correctional education,” and to these people you’re going to respond how?
Steve Stuerer: Well, if I were to talk to a group of elderly people, I think I could get some of them to understand the situation. Things are tough and what are you going to do? Why can’t you reach out to other folks who are in bad situations? What is it about us that we in the United States that we tend to just incarcerate somebody and want to throw away the key? Why isn’t the concept of community, of helping each other, people who are down, who are quite capable if they get the right kind of assistance…why do we want to do that?
Len Sipes: But there are tangible benefits to taxpayers as well.
Steve Stuerer: Sure.
Len Sipes: Look, they’re not going to…their chances of being mugged, their chances of their house being burglarized are significantly reduced if these individuals are trained in prison.
Steve Stuerer: Right, but the reason I bring out this other issue is that we’ve made that argument for years – the reduction of recidivism. We did one of the significant studies in the field and so that really brought the attention of politicians, but right now, all bets are off. You see, what’s happening in states and at the national level. They’re not looking at research in any area. They’re cutting programs. They’re cutting this, cutting that. So I’m trying to see if we can appeal a little more to people’s consciences because there is a big conscience in the United States. Some of the biggest givers in the world in terms of charity and in terms of helping folks and so we’ve gotta take a little bit different tack because right now nobody cares about the recidivism study, you know? So we need to create some sympathy on a humanistic level. So that’s one of the reason why I think the social media, we need to take a good look at it and see how we can reach people. Not just in the dollar in their pocket, but their own feelings about helping others.
Len Sipes: Steve, you get the final word. You had the final word. Steve Stuerer, the Executive Director of the Correctional Education Association, at their Annual Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Ladies and gentlemen, please have yourselves a very pleasant day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We continue to broadcast from the Correctional Education Conference here in Charleston, West Virginia. Again, well over five hundred individuals from all over the country – some people from all over the world – looking at this whole concept of correctional education, looking at correctional programs, looking at reentry programs, looking at what makes a difference in terms of the impact of how people come out of prison. Are they successful? What programs are they engaged in? What programs did they participate in? What programs are successful? What programs aren’t successful? That’s the point of the Correctional Education Conference and before our microphones, we’re going to continue this discussion on research. Cindy Borden, she is with a private company and the private company was under contract to the Correctional Education Association to do some research. Now, needless to say, we can’t endorse a private company, but these are the people who were in charge of the research. Cindy Borden. She is with the Northstar Correctional Educational Services. They are Correctional Education Consultants and the interesting thing here is that what we’re talking about is post-secondary education, i.e. college. A four-year piece of research that shows that one-third, after they’re done a two-year period, one-third are enrolled in college and three-quarter are employed. So those are pretty, pretty, pretty significant findings. Cindy, let’s talk about this. Now, how did you end up with the contract with the Correctional Education Association?
Cindy Borden: CEA asked us to find a funding source and then to recruit states. Started out with six states to participate in this research who were willing to randomly assign students into either the intervention, which was a distance learning program or a control situation, which was basically business as usual. There are local community colleges or correspondence work. So we found the funding source in the Institute of Education Sciences with the US Department of Ed and then they asked us to conduct the field research.
Len Sipes: Now, both of you…and you’re the other person from your company. You’re former principals or superintendents? What were you?
Cindy Borden: We were former teachers and then principals in the prison system.
Len Sipes: So you have a lot of experience in terms of this.
Cindy Borden: I do.
Len Sipes: You have hands-on experience. Now, I do want to explain for our audience that random assignment is the gold standard for research. It’s when a prison…we’re talking about forty-four prisons, right, in seven states?
Cindy Borden: Forty-four prisons in seven states, that’s right.
Len Sipes: Okay and so half were given this program and half were not and it happened by chance. So in other words there’s no research bias.
Cindy Borden: That’s right. They were randomly assigned by computer, generated and half were given the distance learning intervention. The other half continued business as usual.
Len Sipes: Okay. So that is the gold standard. So tell me about this. So you had…this existed for how long in the post-secondary education is a collegiate program and the college program?
Cindy Borden: Yes, it was the first two years of academic college, so basically freshman and sophomore year core course – Gen Ed courses. We went out to the prisons for three years, twice a year. We did pre-testing of the students in the fall and post-testing in the spring. For three years running, we conducted focus groups and we interviewed site coordinators and students. We gave the CAP Critical Thinking exams to all the students in the fall and then post-tested them in the spring.
Len Sipes: Now, believe me. I understand how controversial this is from a public relations point of view. When I was with the state of Maryland I used to do press releases about collegiate stuff, people graduating from collegiate programs and I got quite a bit of pushback from citizens. So there is a concern. People asked me quite blankly…bluntly rather, “I can’t afford to send my child to college, so this guy goes out and commits a violent crime and he gets a free college education. Where’s the fairness in that?” One of the things that I would say in return was that the individuals involved in collegiate programs had the lowest rates of recidivism. That means out of all the things that you could do within a correctional setting these individuals committed fewer crimes, fewer crimes than any other group of individuals and cost taxpayers less money than any other group of individuals. Is that right?
Cindy Borden: That’s absolutely right. An investment in college education for these students brings a cost benefit to the taxpayer that is tremendous. We invest in their college education while they’re incarcerated and the recidivism rate drops significantly for these people. We have discovered in the course of this study that even exposure to a single college course or a single semester of college courses makes a tremendous difference in their decisions once they get out.
Len Sipes: Right, but I mean in this case, what I’m asking is is that this program, these post-secondary collegiate programs in the prison settings are more effective than any other program I’m aware of. That’s the question.
Cindy Borden: They are very effective. Vocational training is also very effective for a separate type of person, but for those who are interested in academic education, yes, college – straight up college – is tremendously effective.
Len Sipes: And I do want to point out the effects. Now, we’re talking about two years out, but that two-year cohort could be people out for two years or people just entering the cohort and being out for a couple of months.
Cindy Borden: That’s right.
Len Sipes: So when you measured this at a two-year period for people out for an entire period of two years and just entering the cohort for a couple of months you found that one-third were enrolled in college and three-quarters were employed.
Cindy Borden: That’s right.
Len Sipes: Now that’s amazing. I mean…
Cindy Borden: It’s a pretty good result.
Len Sipes: Those sorts of statistics are beyond comprehension. I mean, that’s pretty much the best piece of research or the best research findings I’ve ever heard of.
Cindy Borden: It’s much higher than we anticipated. We didn’t expect it to be that high. We were surprised at what that exposure to college produced in their post-release statistics.
Len Sipes: And you would say to the average individual out there who has mixed feelings about this that, what? That these finding trumps just about every other finding that we’ve encountered or what do you say to that person?
Cindy Borden: To the one who says, “I’m paying for my kid’s college. Why should the convicts get it for free?”
Len Sipes: Right.
Cindy Borden: The investment in these people pays off to our communities. What I say to people who say that directly to me is that these people are getting out of prison and they’re going to move next to you and they’re going to move next to your children…
Len Sipes: Or they’re going to be a five-minute drive.
Cindy Borden: Or they’re going to be a five-minute drive and who do you want there? Do you want someone who has had some exposure to college, who’s actually earned a college degree or someone who did nothing with his time while he was incarcerated and then was released and moved in next to your children?
Len Sipes: Cindy Borden, you had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re broadcasting from the Correctional Education Conference here in Charleston, West Virginia. Cindy is with a private company. Again, we can’t endorse private companies, but she was a contractor to the Correctional Education Association to conduct this research. Northstar Correctional Educational Services at northstarcorrectional.com. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your time and effort and listening and look forward next time to another program on the state of the criminal justice system in America. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.