Kansas State Prison residents enroll in college and education

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El Dorado prison in 2011.

Photo file

Classrooms at the Kansas Department of Corrections adult facilities are filled with 325 residents enrolled in college and vocational courses – an increase of 129 students from last year, according to the state.

State Corrections has attributed the increase in enrollment in part to Second Chance Pell Grants, which provide those involved in the criminal justice system with access to federal financial assistance based on the needs that are available to them. was previously inaccessible. Governor Laura Kelly announced last fall that seven Kansas colleges would receive $ 2.2 million in Pell Grants for people who have been incarcerated.

Courses include vocational technical education programs as well as those that help residents earn associate and four-year degrees.

“Of the 325 classroom residents (of the Kansas Department of Corrections) this fall, 240 are funded by Pell,” Cris Fanning, director of education for the Department of Corrections, said in a statement. “By leveraging KDOC funds with Pell and other federal funds, KDOC plans to dramatically increase relevant job certifications in the market for returning citizens.”

Kansas has received the most Second Chance Pell awards in the country, according to the state Corrections. Funding comes from the US Department of Education. In total, the federal agency selected 67 colleges from 180 applications.

Four more Kansas colleges plan to apply early next year for grant status.

In July 2023, the United States will lift the ban on Pell subsidies for people who have been incarcerated. Kansas expects more residents of correctional facilities to then have the option of registering for the courses. Congress enacted the ban in 1994 under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

Skills in welding, sustainable and renewable energy, carpentry and electricity are all included in vocational technical education programs. Available degree programs include Associate in Applied Science, Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies, and Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems.

The state may add more programs and degrees if funding and space permit. Degrees and certifications are intended to always be geared towards jobs and industries in high demand.

Kansas college professors teach courses in correctional facilities. A partnership of state officials works together to ensure that programs in prisons are of the same quality as those on a traditional campus.

Another 134 correctional residents are enrolled in general education development courses to earn a Kansas high school diploma. The state also offers Special Education and Title I services, which provide funds to local schools with large numbers of children from low-income families.

Over the past decades, many local, state, and federal programs have strived to provide financial aid for education to those who otherwise could not afford it. Academic experts and policy makers generally believe that access to education is linked to workforce development and opportunities for economic mobility.

The state cited a study that found that for every dollar a state spent on educating an incarcerated person, taxpayers as a whole save between $ 4 and $ 5 in three-year incarceration costs.

About 75% of people who enter prison have limited employment and education, according to a study by the Kansas Department of Corrections. About 50% of those who were reincarcerated were unemployed when they returned to their community.

Kansas as a whole is also increasingly in need of a talented workforce.

If people can leave prison and return home ready to enter the workforce because of the education and training they received while incarcerated, local employers will benefit from a larger pool. of job applicants, argues the state. This ultimately benefits local and state economies. The state’s corrections service said it releases about 6,000 people from its facilities each year.

Staff at penitentiaries have also found that education and training results in fewer rule violations and better behavior among residents. Opportunities can also promote better mental and physical health.

“There is a direct link to education, achievement and achievement after an individual has served their sentence and returns to the community,” Jeff Zmuda, secretary of state for corrections, said in a statement. “Employment preparation programs, transition planning, opportunities in the private and correctional sector, mentors, tutors and many other key partners all play a role, but education and training do. the base. “

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Megan Stringer reports for The Wichita Eagle, where she focuses on the issues facing the working class, work and employment. She joined The Eagle in June 2020 as a member of the corps with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues and communities. Previously, Stringer covered business and economic development for USA Today Network-Wisconsin, where his award-winning stories spanned everything from retail to manufacturing and healthcare.


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