By Christopher Zoukis
Baltimore, MD’s Goucher College is listed in the 2013-2014 edition of Colleges that Change Lives. The educational institution chalks this up to the “unique college experience” it offers.
How unique is it? Since 2006, it’s the first liberal arts college to mandate a year of studies abroad to increase life experience and offer more opportunities after graduation (such as the ability to volunteer with the Peace Corps or join the Fulbright program).
Goucher College also supports prison education.
The Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) is active in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) and the Maryland Correctional Institution – Jessup (MCIJ). The program currently has about 100 students across the two facilities.
The program is not just about educating prisoners. “Our work together stimulates awareness and meaningful dialogue in and beyond the Goucher community about justice, incarceration, and educational access,” says a quote on the program’s website. “The entire Goucher academic community is enhanced and strengthened by the inclusion of these talented, dedicated students at the two prisons.”
The quote raises an interesting point. When we discuss prison education, most of the time the focus is on the prisoner’s crimes, the lack of resources and support for robust prison education, the endless debate about spending money to educate prisoners, and the touting of facts that prove prison education’s effectiveness. But what about the impact it has on the educators and communities that provide and embrace prison education programs?
As Goucher has learned, the impact is very tangible.
To understand this impact, let’s take a look who goes to jail. The main reason people in America go to jail is for drug offenses. In the federal prison system, drug offenders make up 46.1 percent of the prison population. (In comparison, the next highest offense is weapons, explosions, and arson at 17.9 percent.)
Gender-wise, men in the Federal system account for a whopping 93 percent of the prison population. On the race front, Caucasians number 58.2 percent, and non-Caucasians are at 41.8 percent. Out of the non-Caucasian population, 38.1 percent are black.
Let’s not ignore that famous (shameful) statistic that despite not being the world’s most populated country (329,256,465 to China’s 1,384,688,986 and India’s 1,296,834,042), America has more people behind bars than the entire population of Phoenix. Yes, America remains the country with the world’s highest incarceration rate.
Do these numbers make sense? Only when you look at them through the lens of a failed war on drugs, preconceptions about race, and a system that punishes the disenfranchised.
That brings us full circle to Goucher College and its “stimulation of awareness and meaningful dialogue about justice, incarceration, and educational access.” Turns out, prison education programs are great, but realizing why so much of your country’s population is behind bars is even better.
Goucher does not shy away from the unconventional. In fact, they stake their reputation on being a little different. So, when it comes to prison education, the college takes the road that not only helps offenders break free from the prison system through the power of education, but one that also challenges us all to look at the roots of our prison problem, and educate ourselves on what we need to do for lasting change.
It’s no wonder why it’s listed in the book of Colleges that Change Lives.