ATHENS, Ohio (Feb. 12, 2007) -- Since 1974, Ohio University's College Program for the Incarcerated has been helping inmates throughout Ohio and the United States earn college credit, and even degrees, through a correspondence program. Ohio University's Independent and Distance Learning Program facilitates the correspondence courses and provides academic advising to all distance students working on Ohio University degrees.
"Educating inmates is in the best interest of society, and is additionally much less expensive than reincarcerating them," said Ken Armstrong, director of Independent and Distance Learning Programs.
There are approximately 2.5 million people incarcerated at any one time in the United States. Ninety-seven percent of these inmates will be released at some point and an education has proven a powerful tool to keep recidivism numbers down. In the past ten years, formal studies have shown that inmates who take any education have a much lower rate of relapsing into criminal behavior. The higher the education, the less likely an inmate is to return to prison.
In 2006, Armstrong's office enrolled 800 students in CPI courses, the most in any one year since Ohio University began offering the program.
"Most (inmates) will not earn an Ohio degree, but any who complete courses have something they can take with them when they are released, whether as a help in job searches or to transfer to another college or university," Armstrong said.
The state of Ohio offers on-site, state-funded college education programs in all of its prisons; so the majority of Ohio University's CPI students are from prisons in states that do not have similar site programs, like California, Texas, Arizona, New York, Florida, and Missouri. In 1994, the federal government removed incarcerated students from Pell Grant eligibility. With only a few exceptions, all CPI students must seek their own funding, whether through family members or a small number of private groups that raise money specifically for incarcerated students.
"These new scholarships are small programs that generally fund from four to ten students at a time, but the fact that more are appearing is encouraging," said Armstrong. Even as recently as a few years ago, there was no external funding for incarcerated individuals.
Ohio University's Independent and Distance Learning Programs offer approximately 300 distance courses through both the External Student Program and CPI.