Parnall Correctional Facility prisoners at graduation from Jackson College


Cortez Davis El

VOD Staff Writer

Published August 22, 2017

In the early 1990’s the Michigan Department of Corrections removed all college programs from their facilities due to being underfunded. As a result of this cut, prisoners were not being educated beyond a GED or a Vocational Certificate. This lack of education left many men and women without the proper tools needed to reenter society and be productive. While it was known by many that education is the key to success, prisoners in Michigan were denied the chance to better themselves through educational enlightenment.

Many people saw this as a disaster waiting to happen. The question was asked by prisoners and their families, how do you expect for an ex-felon to gain footing on the outside when so many things are stacked against them? Many employers are reluctant to hire people with felonies on their record and without an education, obtaining meaningful employment would be next to impossible. With the absence of education in the prison system, the recidivism rate skyrocketed beyond anything imaginable. People were leaving prison with no skills or trades that would afford them access to the American Dream without the continued lapse of their moral compass. For so many, no matter how hard they tried to stay focused and live by society’s rules doors were continuously closed on them for being a felon and not having more of an education than a GED.


This made some believe that their only option was a life of crime in order to make ends meet. When you are young, homeless, and hungry, survival and not dying are what you are focusing on. Your intent is not to hurt others or to take things that are not yours. You just want something to eat and or a warm place to lay your head. While difficulties in life are never excuses to commit crimes, being incarcerated should never be a reason to be denied an education and a chance at obtaining meaningful employment upon release. The Michigan Department of Corrections has rediscovered the value in educating its prisoners and has teamed up with various colleges to combat the emptiness of education among those returning to the community. Jackson College, Delta College, and Mott Community College are among those that are piloting college programs inside the Michigan Prisons to reduce recidivism among those that will reenter society.

The public is continuously being fed poison that negatively impacts their position on the importance of educating people in prison. Many claim not to see the need to educate the incarcerated while complaining about crime, higher taxes, and the closing of public schools that educate our children, in an effort to continue funding prisons that warehouse people instead of transforming their minds to grow and work for a maturing society.

Closed Southwestern High School in Detroit.

If you are one who believes that prisons are where society sends its failures and one day the worst of the worst will return to the community. Doesn’t it make sense to release them with the keys needed for success rather than the recipe for disaster?

Their success is a true benefit for society as a whole. They will contribute not just to the building of the economy, but also in crime prevention and the saving of our public school system. The colleges that are participating in this pilot program are owed a debt of gratitude from all parties that will benefit from the education of those that were once forgotten about. The prisoners that are blessed to be a part of this experience know that they are receiving a once in a lifetime opportunity. For many of them college was just a title that had little to know meaning to them.

“I am so excited to be going to college, this is something that I never thought was possible,” a student in the college program said to me. “Although I’m in prison, I am still the only person in my family that has ever attended college.” That statement is repeated by many and the sincerity that is behind those words shows that the men at the Thumb Correctional Facility are destined for success rather than continued failure. To sum it all up, educating the incarcerated should always be an important priority because it offers prisoners a real chance to contribute to society in a meaningful and realistic way. An educated person leaving prison has a greater chance at getting and maintaining employment that contributes to the building of social security and the economy.

The more people that leave prison with an college education increases the possibility of lower taxes due to not having to fund prisons for warehousing which now eats up over 20 percent of Michigan’s general budget annually.

Another benefit is the reduction of the crime rate and recidivism among parolees. This means safer streets for our children and seniors. Another very important benefit is the saving and rebuilding of the public schools which can also be tools in the effort to prevent neighborhood and street crimes, while shutting down the school to prison pipeline and restoring the public school to college pipeline. So how does education play a major role in the transformation of those that will one day return to society? You tell me.

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