Public Dollars To Help Washington State Inmates Earn College Degrees

By: - May 2, 2017 12:00 am

Elaine Thompson/Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Monroe Correctional Complex

Inmates attend class at Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state.

© The Associated Press

Community and technical colleges in Washington state will soon be able to use taxpayer dollars to offer college courses to inmates.

A new law, which takes effect in July, will enable prisoners to earn an Associate of Technical Arts degree in certain workforce-related fields such as business management.

Previously, the state partnered with colleges to offer basic education and vocational classes intended to help inmates successfully return to their communities. But research suggests access to college-level studies can further reduce recidivism rates among former inmates.

Last year, then-President Barack Obama reinstated Pell Grants — federal loans used by low-income students — on a limited basis for prisoners.

The hope is that with more access to education while incarcerated, prisoners will be less likely to be among the 40 percent of ex-offenders who return to state prisons within three years of release. A 2014 Rand Corporation analysis estimated that every dollar spent on educating inmates saves in re-incarceration costs. 

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Sarah Breitenbach

Sarah Breitenbach, who writes about the business of government for Stateline, has spent much of her professional life writing about Maryland politics and policy. She began her career covering education and state government for the Frederick News-Post and has worked for the Gazette of Politics and Business and The Associated Press.