For prison inmates, as horrifying as the experience of incarceration can be, one of the hardest parts is realizing you might not have a good chance of a easy life once you finish paying off your debt to society. If being a convict wasn’t already a blemish on your record, you are competing for jobs with people who who either in school or employed in the outside world. The University of Iowa hopes to help inmates by developing a college-in-prison program, and is starting with a series of speaker classes involving men from the Iowa Medical & Classification Center.
‘I want to be something more than this charge’
Topics in the fall speaker series include World War 1 poetry, religion, human rights, civil liberties, yoga and job interviews. Kathrina Litchfield, the programs coordinator for the school’s Center for Human Rights, was the one to have planned the series, hoping that it will one day grow into a college-in-prison program which would allow inmates to earn, or even finish, their college degrees.
“The hope is that evidence will show that Pell grants for incarcerated students are a sound investment, and college-in-prison programs nationwide will be able to make the grants available to their enrolled incarcerated students,” Litchfield explained in a statement.
“We’ll be problem-solving together how to matriculate students, provide accreditation toward a degree or complete unfinished degrees as transfer students, provide for costs, add teaching at Oakdale (IMCC) to professors’ course loads, make tuition accessible, provide for college-ready instruction, etc.”
Currently, Litchfield and her colleagues have friends in high places. The program has support from university president, Bruce Harreld, spoke to the students involved back in September and plans to return for a special banquet and certificate presentation this upcoming November. They also had help developing the program with Bard College, a private school in upstate New York, helped Litchfield to develop the program. Bard had been granting college degrees to student inmates since 2005, eventually becoming the largest college-in-prison program in the United States.
Inmates who participate in education programs are said to have a 43% lower chance of recidivism, according to the nonprofit organization, RAND. Inmates also have a better chance of employment after release, around 13% higher, if they were involved in either academic or vocational education programs than those who did not.
Ryan McKelvey, an inmate who is currently serving time for a third-degree sex abuse case out of Polk County said that he signed up for the series because he felt it was important for any chance of success outside of prison. As he explained in a statement, according to The Gazette, “I want to be something more than this charge…With education, there is identity.” “I see it as an opportunity to do something different in my life,” added Asa Winters, another inmate.
What kind of syllabus does the speaker-series have?
“Demystifying Higher Education,” by Dan Clay, dean of the UI College of Education
“Learning Through Discussion,” by UI President Bruce Harreld
“First World War Poetry,” by Florence Boos, UI professor of English
“War, Justice and Human Rights,” by Brian Farrell, law lecturer and associate director of UI Center for Human Rights
“Civil Liberties & Civic Education,” by Jason Harshman, UI assistant professor of social studies and global education
“The Job Interview,” by Ken Brown, dean of UI undergraduate business program
“Yoga, Yoga Nidra and the Cultivation of Awareness,” by Fannie Hungerford, UI instructor in theater
“Motivation for Life,” by Mitch Kelly, UI professor of education
“Interpreting Genesis,” by Jay Holstein, teaching chair in Judaic Studies at UI
Banquet and Certificate presentation