Scholar at liberty-minded nonprofit praises program as beneficial
A recent change in Michigan state law now allows prison inmates to obtain financial aid as they work to advance their education behind bars, a move that some on both sides of the political spectrum call a positive step.
“Allowing incarcerated individuals the ability to obtain college credentials while they are in prison improves their chances of employment once they have been released, which is shown to significantly reduce the likelihood that they will commit future crimes,” David Guenthner, senior strategist for state affairs at the right-of-center Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, told The College Fix.
The change was also praised by Terrell Blount, a program associate with the Vera Institute of Justice, a more progressive organization.
“It makes a statement saying that … education changes lives. It reduces recidivism,” Blount told the Detroit Free Press. “Everyone agrees people should be held accountable for what they’ve done or committed, but that doesn’t mean that they should be deprived and have their educational opportunity taken away from them.”
The change in state law means that inmates now have access to Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program, or TIP. The TIP program provides tuition assistance to Medicaid-eligible state residents.
“For a long time, conservatives have had a reflexive attitude that people who have committed crimes, been incarcerated, should be punished across the board,” Guenthner told The Fix. “We’ve seen that that has been a pennywise, sometimes foolish approach. The focus of things we do in criminal justice policy or in aspects that overlap criminal justice policy should be to do things that improve public safety and reduce costs to taxpayers.”
This program could also help released inmates when employers see they have completed classes while incarcerated. Though some employers are deterred by prison time on applications, Guenthner explained that with today’s job market, combined with working toward education in jail, inmates still have a significant chance of landing a job.
“With unemployment rates being as low as they are, employers are looking for qualified employees wherever they can find them,” Guenthner said. “Over the last few years particularly, the growing percentage of employers willing to consider applicants who may have had a criminal history has increased significantly.”
Guenthner said he recently visited a prison in Michigan that worked with a college to help the inmates complete classes and work on their education. He said the opportunity for those incarcerated to participate in classes and work toward a better life for themselves upon release played a large role in the fact there were so little problems amongst inmates and inmates and guards in the prison.
“To hear the stories of the inmates as far as the things they were learning and what they wanted to do with the education when they got out, and to hear them talk about how that affected the culture in which people viewed them, was really remarkable,” Guenthner said.