Meeting Them Where They Are: Student Learning Behind Bars

Meeting Them Where They Are: Student Learning Behind Bars

Thomas C. Priester (SUNY Genesee Community College, USA) and Tisha M. Smith (Unity Health System, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8481-2.ch006
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Correctional educational programs strive to enhance the type of prisoner returning to the community and reduce the chances they will return to their criminal activity and (as a result) return to prison. While some correctional facilities have school districts, some collaborate with community colleges to obtain educational services. In 2007, the United States Congress passed the Second Chance Act, which allotted funding to enhance the nation's educational system within its correctional facilities. The purpose of this chapter is to address a specific way community colleges serve students where they are. The authors address research pertaining to the role of education in an incarcerated student population's ability to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Additionally, the authors share first-hand curricular and support challenges and innovative practices in preparing students behind bars for the workforce of the (in most cases) not so near future.
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As previously mentioned, the student population that attends community colleges in America is unique because, compared to students who attend baccalaureate degree-granting institutions, more non-traditionally aged students tend to enroll in coursework at community colleges. The average age of students at the community college is 28. Also, a large percentage (42%) of students at community colleges are first-generation college students which means they come from families where neither parents nor guardians earned a baccalaureate degree. Students at community colleges are likely to have family (16% are single parents) and work obligations, and as a result nearly 60% are enrolled in part-time course work (NCES, 2009).

Because of an open-access mission, community colleges tend to admit a large number of academically underprepared students (McCabe, 2000). More specifically, over 50% of the students admitted to community colleges are considered academically underprepared as a result of placement test scores in core academic disciplines such as reading, writing, and mathematics and are required to enroll in remedial or developmental education courses and programs when they enter the community college (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2010). Just over 30% of the students who enroll in remedial or developmental education courses and programs obtain a degree or certificate within six years at community colleges (Radford, Berkner, Wheeless, & Shepherd, 2010).

Students behind bars are not immune to these characteristics. In fact, students behind bars could potentially bring with them any combination of the many success-impeding characteristics. However (for better or worse as illustrated later in this chapter), students behind bars have one other very important variable to add to the equation—time. In a qualitative study on prison reentry, an ex-prisoner stated, “The influence on my way of thinking was being alone in those 4 x 8 cells, you know, and I had a chance to really do a lot of soul searching and, you know, it was what I call my wilderness experience. But then, I think about it, I was locked down for 30 days, 24 hours, you know? For the average person that might make you an animal being caged in like that but it didn’t. Like I said, I did a lot of crying, you know what I’m saying, because I was mad at myself for letting myself down and letting my family down for being back in there (prison). That was my major influence, you know? I wanted to change, you know?” (Smith, 2013).

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