Tax dollars could go to college classes in prison

The hope is to give inmates the tools they need to avoid committing more crimes when they are released.

SEATTLE -- It's been more than 20 years since Washington state has allowed public tax dollars to fund education for prison inmates. A new bill in Olympia, gaining broad support, could begin that again.

Senate Bill 6260 suggests the best way to prevent female inmates from re-offending after they're released is to enroll them in classes while behind bars. Female inmates in Washington state currently can receive private grant money from the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS).

Dr. Tanya Erzen, Associate Professor at the University of Puget Sound, is behind FEPPS and says educating female inmates is a public safety issue.

"Most inmates will be released. And do you want people returning living near you who have no education and who have been punished endlessly?" said Erzen. "Or do you want someone returning to your community who is working toward an education?"

It's estimated that 70% of inmates return to prison after their initial sentence. 

Former inmates like Danielle Azevedo say education changed her life. She enrolled in classes using FEPPS while locked up in the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.  When released, Azevedo was just a few credits shy of her associate degree and is now planning to transfer to the University of Washington to receive her bachelor's degree in structural engineering.

"(Education) finally made me feel human," she said. "It makes your self-confidence grow. I can see what's going on around me. That's what makes a big difference."

The federal government is experimenting with small grants to community colleges for inmate education in other states. Dr. Erzen estimates if Washington state opened up the same program, it could mean around $5,600 in public funds per student.

 


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