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Correctional agencies will gain broad power over prison education. Advocates say that's the problem.

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Advocates for incarcerated students have expressed concern about who will make the final decisions about which educational programs in prison are eligible for Pell grants.

Under regulations proposed last week by the U.S. Department of Education, the local, state and federal agencies that oversee prisons will decide which programs will be available to about half a million newly eligible inmates next year for Pell Grants. .

But that’s not what correctional institutions were designed to do, according to advocates and higher education experts. Inmate advocates say correctional institutions are ill-equipped to assess the educational quality of programs and prisons are more concerned with security than access to knowledge, so they recommend limiting available courses. I am concerned.

“Prisons were meant to house people, not to educate them,” said Monique O. Ossitel, senior policy adviser for data and research on higher education at the research institute New America. I’m here.

The proposed regulations are related to 2020 legislation and are expected to go into effect next July, eventually replacing the Second Chance Pell program, which is permitted this fall. Up to 200 Universities To provide educational programs. The new law will make federal financial assistance available to more incarcerated students if needed, including those sentenced to life without parole or facing the death penalty.

In particular, the law prohibits for-profit universities from offering Pell-funded programs to incarcerated students. The law also requires that each program’s credits be transferable to at least one other college within the state where the program is offered. The law also requires assurances that prisoners will be able to meet state licensing requirements for the program after they are released.

Prisons were meant to hold people, not to educate them.

The regulation, proposed last week, outlines a lengthy approval process for the program involving accrediting bodies and the Ministry of Education.

However, it is up to the correctional agency to determine whether the course is “run in the student’s best interest.” To do so, the institution sets: Benchmarks for each of the seven standardsThis includes the “experience, qualifications, turnover or turnover rate” of the program’s faculty, employment rates, and a comparison of the earnings of released students who complete the program versus those of high school graduates.

Bradley D. Custer, senior policy analyst for higher education at the Center for American Progress, said a major concern is that the agencies that oversee prisons are not always competent to make such assessments. said. I wrote about regulation. when they were drafted. Additionally, benchmarks set by government agencies can vary widely between states and even within states, he said.

The education department will then evaluate the program, Custer said, but it’s not clear whether the federal ministry will carry out extensive oversight.

The proposed rule would allow correctional agencies to seek input from “relevant stakeholders,” including “representatives of incarcerated students, organizations representing incarcerated individuals, state higher education administrations, and accrediting agencies.” Corrections agencies could do so, for example, by forming advisory committees, Custer said, but stakeholder recommendations would not be binding.

Additionally, he said there would be no way for anyone to appeal the Department of Corrections’ decision to approve or deny an educational program eligible for Pell grants in prison.

“This is really nothing new”

Corrections officials said they were already involved in evaluating educational programs. “This is really nothing new,” said Karen He Pojuman, his director of communications for the Missouri Department of Corrections. “We employ an experienced correctional education staff to oversee partnerships, support programs, draft memorandums of understanding, and help find grants,” Pojmann wrote in an email. increase.

Amy Lloyd, deputy secretary of the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, said the new rules were unanimously agreed upon during the negotiated rulemaking process. After a public comment period, a final decision is expected this fall.

The agency would encourage corrections agencies to consider voter feedback as part of the holistic process, but it lacks the jurisdiction to require prisons to approve Pell-funded programs.

Terrell Brandt, director of the nonprofit Former Incarcerated College Alumni Network, said the advisory board would create transparency in the process and prevent prisons from making backdoor deals with colleges just to increase enrollment. If so, he said, it’s a good idea.

But the proposed rule does not address many other challenges, such as prisons that prioritize security and containment over quality of education, he said. making it difficult. Because such a course would require technology that the prison would not allow or equipment such as test tubes that the prison would like to restrict.

Rebecca Ginsberg, an associate professor of education policy and landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says there is an “inherent conflict” in allowing correctional institutions to oversee educational programs. The educational justice program she directs offers courses in several prisons in Illinois, but none are eligible for Pell grant inmates.

“For some corrections departments, it will be tempting to use that discretion to make choices that are in their best interests to maintain order and safety,” she said.

Liberal arts, for example, is meant to encourage people to think and act outside the box, “the kind that many correctional departments see as threatening,” she said.

“There’s definitely a tension between higher education and keeping people in cages,” she said.