New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow prison inmates to apply for student financial aid.
Highland Park resident Boris Franklin was in prison for 11 years and is now studying psychology at Rutgers. He started taking college courses while incarcerated and says education transformed a maximum-security prison into an institution of learning.
“It was like nothing you had ever seen. Inmates were shouting out of cell windows at other inmates to borrow books and to make copies of articles for them. Guys were arguing on the yard about Marx and Socrates. The prison began to swell with hope.”
Chris Agans is the director of New Jersey STEP, a consortium that works with colleges to provide education for students in prison. He says letting inmates be eligible for student grants makes economic sense.
“For every dollar spent you save five. And that’s on re-incarceration, that’s on policing, and that means also less victims in the state of New Jersey. So we can talk about continuing to punish folks, or we can talk about ways in which we can reduce crime, reduce victimization, and save money in the state of New Jersey. And this is one way to do that.”
Former Governor Jim McGreevey now runs a program that helps inmates adjust to society when they’re released. He says being able to get grants to take college courses would help them get the education to be productive citizens and prevent them from committing more crimes.
“Nobody has any problem building more prison cells, but god forbid we should educate people. This is as easy as it gets, but we have to really change it. If we’re serious about reducing recidivism, we have to create opportunities.”
No one spoke against the measure when the Senate Higher Education Committee voted to advance it.