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“Back to School” is a Guide to Success Following Release from Prison

Even the most diligent planning does not ensure success. However, it is a proven fact that education significantly enhances one’s chances to succeed. Back to School: A Guide to Continuing Your Education After Prison (the Guide) offers numerous helpful insights for entry or reentry into educational programs.

For many prisoners, education has never been their strong suit. Many dropped out before completing high school or are working to get their GED. Even those who did graduate probably have not been inside a classroom for many years.

The Guide notes that prisoners are not alone in that regard. For example, a 2000 study determined that more than 18% of adults in the U.S. never finished high school or earned a GED. Yet education is crucial to success. “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a high school graduate earns about $9,000 more per year on average than a person with-out a diploma,” the Guide states.

In 2006, the unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma was 4.3% and their median weekly earnings were $595. By contrast, graduates with a two-year college degree had only a 3% unemployment rate and an average weekly income of $721. A four-year degree yielded 2.3% unemployment and $962 in average weekly income.

The Guide is packed with tips on how to reenter the educational arena no matter what level you had previously attained. In one section, ex-prisoner Dwight Stephenson describes a program called the College Initiative as a prisoner-friendly course that helped him get started on his college career after 14 years in prison.

From GED to Ph.D., the Guide walks you, step-by-step, through many of the major obstacles of enrollment in educational programs. It also provides examples of practical success-oriented steps such as obtaining and organizing relevant documents. Resumes, references and proper identification can make all the difference between success and failure, and the Guide takes the reader through the fine points of each of those areas.

The Guide also includes web addresses for a variety of educational resources. For those who are technologically challenged, it provides step-by-step instructions on how to access websites and use email, and shows users how to identify academic institutions not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.

No matter what your level of preparedness, the Guide can help you get started. One section contains instructions on how to select your direction of study by making a list of jobs you might like to have. Another section walks you through the complicated process of applying for financial aid from federal agencies.

Success can often hinge on relatively minor details such as having a quiet place to study or simply budgeting your time. The Guide suggests ways to work around even the busiest schedule.
One of the Guide’s most appealing features is its suggestions for those who are still incarcerated. The very first appendix directs prisoners to the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Can-ada by Jon Marc Taylor. The 3rd edition of the Guerrilla Handbook, published by Prison Legal News, provides information about college and other educational courses that are available via correspondence study. The Guerrilla Handbook can be ordered on pp.53-54. [Also see: PLN, March 2009, p.38].

Back to School: A Guide to Continuing Your Education After Prison is a lifeline of hope for those willing to further their education in order to improve their chances of success once they are released.

The Guide is produced by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice through funding by the U.S. Department of Education. Note that it is only available in electronic form; thus, prisoners must arrange to have it printed out and mailed in. The Guide is available on PLN’s website, or at:

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