Formerly incarcerated inmates face many obstacles in completing secondary education.
Yet LCCC give them a second chance.
A student’s education can be a pathway to new experiences and opportunities. Yet for those seeking secondary education, a criminal record can create significant barriers to a degree or future career.
Lorain County Community College’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Marty Eggleston has over 18 years of experience working closely with programs that mentor and educate inmates. Eggleston is the program coordinator and manager of Positive Reentry for Ohio Prisoners (PROP), a second chance program that gives current and former inmates the opportunity to better themselves through education.
“I truly believe that education has a medicinal value,” Eggleston said. “Inmates who earn a two-year college degree or higher are 70 percent less likely to go back to prison than those who did not complete a program.”
PROP works with inmates by offering them the opportunity to take courses while they are still incarcerated. These course are offered by several area schools like LCCC and Lorain County Joint Vocational School (JVS). Upon being released, the former inmates can then continue their coursework at that institution.
As of 2014, the state of Ohio’s recidivism (a former inmate’s probability of relapsing and being re-institutionalized over a three year period) rate is 27.1 percent among inmates released in 2010, according the the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC). This marks a significant decrease since 2000, when the recidivism rate was 39 percent.
Educational programs and courses like PROP are instrumental in the fight to keep inmates from repeating crimes and landing themselves back in jail.
Eggleston also works as a PROP instructor at the Lorain Correctional Institution (LCI) in Grafton, OH. Kim Clipper, who serves as warden for the facilities, has worked closely with Eggleston and LCCC’s president Marcia Ballinger.
“During class time, violence is down in the institution,” Clipper said of the atmospheric changes she has witnessed since PROP classes began at LCI. “Inmate idleness leads to increased violence,” Clipper added. “Having them active makes for a calmer institution.”
Programs like PROP are important, according to one LCCC student with a criminal record who wished to remain anonymous.
“Former inmates don’t have as many opportunities as someone without a criminal record,” he said. “The PROP program gives someone with no options, the option to better themselves.”
These programs give inmates something positive to do for themselves, the student added.
Classes and opportunities for inmates have become more pertinent, as the number of Americans with a criminal background has risen sharply over the last three decades, according a 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Nearly one third of the adult population of working age has a criminal record, the study found. America houses roughly the same number of citizens with a criminal record as it does people with a 4-year college degree, the Brennan Center also found. This means that if all of the arrested Americans were their own separate nation, it would be the world’s 18th largest country, roughly three times larger than Australia.
The difficulties that formerly incarcerated inmates have can be cyclical in nature. A considerable number of employers perform criminal background checks on applicants, which makes it even more challenging for those individuals to find employment and a steady source of income. Several states have elected to ‘ban the box’ on employment application forms, however Ohio is not among them.
About 86 percent of human resource managers perform background checks on nearly every applicant, while 69 percent perform a background check on every applicant, according to a 2012 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management.
Additionally, in 2009, the United States Department of Justice found that a past criminal conviction of any kind can reduce the likelihood of a job offer by 50%. Circumstances like these can lead to individuals turning back to crime as a means to survive, becoming re-offenders in the process.
“Offenders are eventually going to return to our communities,” Clipper said. “The more programs we can provide to them in the institution, the sooner we could reach our mission.”
The hope is to see a change in behavior once their sentence is over, according to Clipper. “[I hope] they have a change in thought and will be productive citizens when they go back out into our communities,” she said.
Students with a criminal past do have a way forward. At LCCC, these students are paired with their own academic advisor, Julie Ford, who is the Second Chance program advisor on campus. There are several other things students need to be aware of regarding their criminal records. It is important to be familiar with what is on your criminal record and what barriers it may create, according to the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC). Becoming familiar with what may show during a criminal background check can be very helpful. Record sealing is another option, according to the OJPC. This would allow an individual to check the ‘no’ box when asked if they have criminal convictions while applying for employment. For more information on sealing criminal records, and other useful information, visit ohiojpc.org. Being aware of how a criminal record can affect financial aid is extremely important as well. More information regarding financial aid can be found at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/aid-info-for-incarcerated-individuals.pdf.
If any students have a criminal record or are interested in PROP, contact Julie Ford at 440-366-7664 or Marty Eggleston by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can also fill out an information request form by visiting lorainccc.edu/Current+Students/Second+Chance.htm.
Avianna Velez contributed to this story.