Advocates push for better education programs in Georgia prisons

Research shows benefits extend beyond prison walls and into neighboring communities.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 8:07 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Calls for increased education opportunities in Georgia prisons grow stronger, as research shows benefits extend beyond prison walls and into neighboring communities.

Patrick Rodriguez, co-executive director of Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison, has first-hand experience with the success of a prison education system. Rodriguez was previously incarcerated at five different Georgia facilities, before his pursuit of higher education in prison kept him out for good.

“When a teacher goes inside of a classroom inside of a prison, that classroom is no longer a prison,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a place for people to learn and identify as a student instead of an inmate, a convict.”

Rodriguez felt lucky to gain access to an education program in prison. He recalled other inmates attempting to sign up for the class, high in demand.

“The sheet was filled on the front and back. There were ten slots, which means there were 30 to 35 people who didn’t have the opportunity to take the class,” he explained. “From my perspective, imagine if those 30 to 35 had the opportunity to take that class and get those hours – where would they be today?”

Inmates enrolled in post-secondary education opportunities are 48 percent less likely to return to prison, according to the Vera Institute.

Just one percent of people in Georgia state prisons have a bachelor’s degree.

Georgia reports one of the highest rates of imprisonment per capita worldwide. Rodriguez believes education can positively influence one’s mindset and behavior.

“They begin to see challenges in the classroom, and that translates into the real life and challenges they may face every day,” he said.

Education programs can also impact the surrounding communities. According to research from Northwestern University, taxpayers save $4 to $5 for every single dollar invested in prison education.

National efforts have ramped up to help people in prison get federal aid for school. In July, Pell Grants were reinstated, meaning incarcerated people enrolled in eligible prison education programs can access financial aid.