News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News

May 13, 2011

IDOC changing inmate education

Along with funding, degrees to focus on employment

TERRE HAUTE — In Indiana, funding for prison inmate post-secondary education is expected to decline, and the focus will turn to those programs that help inmates become employed once released, state officials say.

“If I had to make a guess today, I don’t think there will be enough funding to do bachelor’s degree programs” in the future, said John Nally, Indiana Department of Correction director of education.

IDOC research shows that associate degrees have a much greater impact on inmate employment, once they are released, he said.

Also, the way inmate education is funded will change. Effective July 1, the State Student Assistance Commission is prohibited from awarding grants to a “confined felon.”

Inmate education has been funded through SSACI grants that go directly to the colleges that participate. In the future, the Department of Correction will administer and fund inmate post-secondary education programs.

Nally said he’s still waiting to learn the amount that will be available for inmate post-secondary educational services next year.

An Indiana State University official said he had been informed the amount could be as low as $2 million.

A few years ago, SSACI provided about $12 million to $13 million in financial aid to Indiana state prison inmates, said Claudia Braman, SSACI executive director. With the start of the new fiscal year, SSACI is no longer involved in funding inmate education.

The changes have repercussions for several Indiana public and private colleges, which provide inmate educational services, both associate and bachelor’s degrees.

Earlier this week, ISU provost Jack Maynard said the university learned its contract to provide associate- and bachelor’s degree programs at four state prison facilities will be “canceled.”

ISU has a contract to provide associate- and bachelor’s degree programs at four state prison facilities: Wabash Valley-Carlisle, Plainfield, Putnamville and Rockville. Most of the course work is at the associate degree level, he said.

In a typical year, ISU has had about 400 student-inmates at five institutions, including the federal prison in Terre Haute. It also has employed about 60 instructors, mostly part-time, to teach the courses.

Other colleges that have provided inmate education at state prisons include Grace College, Ball State, Oakland City University, Purdue University North Central and Ivy Tech Community College.

Maynard said ISU is most concerned about those students who are close to completing an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The Department of Administration and DOC are working with the impacted colleges and universities to provide a “teach-out” program for those offenders who are currently enrolled in associate degree and bachelor degree programs and are relatively close to completion of those programs.

The “teach-out” proposal is still being finalized, Nally said. As of Thursday, the thinking was that inmates within one semester of completing an associate degree and within two semesters of completing a bachelor’s degree could finish their program, Nally said.

Under the teach-out scenario, inmates would have to complete associate degrees by Dec. 31, and they would have to complete bachelor’s degrees by June 30 of 2012.

About 700 inmates statewide who take classes through the different colleges would be able to complete programs under that “teach-out” scenario, Nally said.

The state will negotiate with the colleges, including ISU, on the teach-out program, he said.

Looking toward 2012, the state will issue a request for proposals to provide post-secondary programs in the adult prison system, Nally said. “Everything is driven by funding levels.”

With less funding, that education will have to be offered in a more cost efficient manner, he said. He anticipates the focus will be on programs that lead to employment for inmates, once they are released, based on Indiana’s employment needs.

In Indiana, the available jobs require  “middle skills,” and “to get those jobs, you need an associate degree,” Nally said,

Employment is a critical factor in reducing recidivism, he said.

Currently, the DOC has about 28,000 inmates and about 2,400 are pursuing college degrees. Less money could mean fewer inmates will be served, he said.

Nally said he’s developing different spreadsheets based on different funding scenarios.

Neither the State Budget Agency nor IDOC was able to provide a specific figure on the amount that will be available for prison inmate post-secondary education next year.

With limited resources, IDOC would be able to offer the teach-out program next year, but it might not be in a position to enroll new inmate/students in college programs, Nally said.

Inmates can earn reductions in their sentences by obtaining college degrees while they’re in prison — for an associate degree, up to one year, and for a bachelor’s, up to two years.

Maynard previously noted that ISU doesn’t offer many two year programs because those are now provided by Ivy Tech Community College.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (812) 231-4235      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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