Academia, Campus, News

BU still reaches out to Bay State prisoners

Boston University professor Elizabeth Barker never expected her students to lose an academic link to inmates from a nearby men’s prison, but when they did, she helped begin the BU Prison Education Program, offering college courses to inmates of the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Norfolk.
The program, now in its 36th year, continues to offer a variety of courses to qualified prisoners at several prisons throughout BU’s Metropolitan College. Inmates can choose from any MET course that does not require a lab, free of cost, Program Director Robert Cadigan said. BU is currently the only school in Massachusetts that offers the program.
‘I think that BU saw this as making a real contribution to the city and state,’ Cadigan said.
There are currently 260 inmates enrolled in the program. Inmates qualify for the program based on an exam, which includes the BU Writing Assessment that is given to all incoming freshmen. Inmates can achieve a degree in interdisciplinary studies. Most inmates however are part-time students who take one or two classes.
Several other Massachusetts schools used to offer prison education programs as well, but the 1994 Crime Control and Prevention Act eliminated federal Pell Grants for prisoners, limiting the funding for inmate education, Cadigan said.
Cadigan said he has seen first-hand how the program can help inmates.
‘A number of people have been out for 10 to 15 years working very successfully in the community,’ he said.
Inmates who have participated in the program have gone on to work in fields including prison rehabilitation, social services and the ministry, Cadigan said.
Correctional education participants have statistically significant lower rates of getting arrested, convicted and re-incarcerated after release, according to a 2003 study published jointly by the Correctional Education Association and the Management & Training Corporation Institute.
Prison Education Program instructor Abraham Waya said he began teaching with the program in 2004, after visiting a prison as a volunteer and seeing how much of an influence education can have on the inmates’ lives.
Waya, who is also a minister, currently teaches courses on the Bible and philosophy as well as an introductory course on political theory. He said the challenge of teaching in a prison is primarily the ‘unavailability of resources’ such as the Internet.
Despite the difficulties, inmates are very grateful for the opportunity, he said. They work hard and follow the news and are very informed about the world. They always thank him for coming, Waya said.
‘A good education can change people’s lives,’ Waya said. ‘They are improving themselves and helping society.’
BU Community Service Center program manager Annie Kiefer, said she thinks the program is a great opportunity for inmates.
Kiefer, a College of Communication senior, said students who sign up to work in human rights issues have a chance to visit and speak with the prisoners enrolled in the Prison Education Program.
‘I think anybody would benefit from having an education,’ Kiefer said.

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