During his nearly 14 years serving time in an Alabama prison, David Garlock wanted to do everything he could to better himself. That meant earning an education.
While incarcerated, Garlock enrolled in trade school, where he earned a certificate in architectural and mechanical drafting. After he was released, he kept working toward his ultimate goal – a college degree.
Nine months out of prison, Garlock was accepted at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Because of the classes he'd taken in prison, he entered Eastern with more than 60 credits and eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree.
"It takes a village for a returning citizen to be successful," says Garlock, who now works as a statewide organizer for Straight Ahead, an organization focused on reducing mass incarceration. "It takes the person's family, the community and educational programs that are going to accept the individual."
What Is Prison Education?
Postsecondary prison education programs come in a variety of forms, ranging from non-credit workshops taught by volunteers to full degree-granting programs.
In partnership with local prisons or jails, colleges conduct classes inside the facilities. Classes function as they would in a traditional college classroom, but with some added obstacles including time constraints, occasional lockdown disruptions and limitations to technology and supplies.
"I find that when I'm teaching inside (a prison), my students are engaged, committed, hardworking and prepared," says Marc M. Howard, founder and director of Georgetown University's Prisons and Justice Initiative in Washington, D.C. "It's actually a love of learning in the most pure sense; they don't have cell phones or distractions. They are really there because they want to be there and want to learn and relish in the experience."
Like other potential students, incarcerated students must fill out an application and provide necessary documentation to be accepted into a college program. Most applications are completed on paper, as is coursework, unless computer access is granted.
Instruction is in person, with college professors teaching inside correctional facilities. Depending on the program, coursework can lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or even a bachelor's degree.
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