Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, The New Press, 2016, 240 pp.
Controversy always seems to swirl around the provision of college opportunities for incarcerated persons. This dispute came to a temporary and partial conclusion with the 1994 Crime Bill. The law, signed by President Bill Clinton, included a provision eliminating state and federal prisoners from the Pell Grant Program, the principal federal program supporting post-secondary education for low income students. Additional cutbacks of state funded efforts followed, but the debate has continued.
In her book, "Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison," Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, the former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, offers the fully developed "pro" case in this long simmering debate. "Liberating Minds" includes it all: a historical overview, the principal arguments for offering college opportunities, annotated reviews of current research, descriptions of current programs, anecdotal descriptions of individual prisoner students, personal reflections on being a post-secondary education provider in a prison setting and a call for action.
Lagemann begins her book with chapters developing the case for college in prison based on a series of stated benefits. She begins with the potential of advanced education to transform individuals and to help individuals realize a pro-social identity. Similar to those with a faith-based perspective on prison work who would likely use the term "redemption" to describe their goals, Lagemann justifies post-secondary education in the context of "human worth." Successive chapters describe the economic benefit, the benefit to institutional culture, benefits to families and communities as well as benefits to civil society.
The "Liberating Minds'" chapter on economic benefits presents the widely recognized case for education as a recidivism reduction tool with the potential to save future direct incarceration costs. Additional economic benefits are also referenced including costs within a criminal justice context, as well as economic benefits from enhanced rates of labor force participation and savings resulting from family reunifications. Lagemann presents extensive evidence supporting college in prison as a cost-effective rehabilitation intervention.
The two chapters on benefits to institutional culture and to families and communities cogently develop arguments for these potential benefits of offering post-secondary education in prison...