Mick Zais, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Education, said at a U.S. Department of Education event Monday that during his 30-plus years in the U.S. Army, he met plenty of young people who were in the armed services because a judge had given them the option of enlisting in the military—or serving jail time.
Most went on to law-abiding lives and productive careers, he said.
“The majority of young people who get a rocky start can turn their lives around,” Zais said at the event, “Rethinking Education for Incarcerated Individuals.” The Trump administration has made the issue a priority in the wake of bipartisan prison reform legislation that passed last year.
Zais said opening up educational opportunities to prisoners is generally best done at the local level. But he highlighted one key federal initiative—allowing incarcerated individuals to take advantage of Pell Grants, which help low-income students attend college. The Obama administration started a pilot project for so-called “Second Chance Pell.” And the Trump administration has continued it.
States have a stake in making sure incarcerated individuals are able to join the workforce once their sentences end, said Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, who delivered the keynote address at the event at the U.S. Department of Education.
For one thing, ex-offenders who are able to get jobs are less likely to wind up back in prison. For another, there are jobs in the state that desperately need to be filled, at a time when unemployment is just 3.7 percent.
“We have companies that are coming to Arkansas that need workers,” Hutchinson said. He shared the story of a former inmate who was able to get his GED while in prison and begin work at a hardware store. He was also able to get a driver’s license—something he hadn’t had for 30 years, Hutchinson said.
The event also featured Amy Lopez, the deputy director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, who talked about the partnerships her organization has with nearby universities like Georgetown. Another speaker, Steve Good, the executive director of Five Keys Schools, a charter network that operates in prisons in California. Five Keys has a placement program that helps its graduates find jobs after their sentences end, he said.
Derrick McDougal, right, a youthful offender at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility, displays a website he helped design, at a computer coding class, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in Stockton, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom toured the facility and visited the class that teaches computer coding. Newsom is proposing to put California’s juvenile prisons under the state’s Health and Human Services Agency instead of the same agency that runs adult prisons. --Rich Pedroncelli/AP
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