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Illinois Eliminates Computer, Business Classes for Prisoners

Illinois prison officials are eliminating computer education classes for prisoners, and the rationale for the decision to end the classes varies.

The computer program operated at 11 state prisons, with around 900 prisoners participating in the last round of classes. It was run with the assistance of community college instructors and provided computer and business management skills to help prisoners obtain work or start their own businesses upon release.

Prison officials, however, cited a five-year review that found prisoners were not being hired in computer-related positions upon release. “It was determined that offenders were unable to find direct employment in the computer technology arena,” said prison spokeswoman Sharyn Elman.

But elimination of the classes may have more to do with fiscal realities, as Illinois is facing a $13 billion budget gap. One community college, Southeastern Illinois College, announced in May 2010 that it was ending its classes at the Shawnee and Vienna correctional facilities because the state was delinquent in paying the school for work it performed.

Community colleges provide a variety of education classes to prisoners ranging from automotive repair to horticulture. The estimated 19 instructors who lost their jobs due to elimination of the computer and business management classes were told they could bid for other education jobs in the prison system.

A report by the John Howard Association of Illinois, released in May 2010, found that the state “has allowed its prison vocational and academic programs to wither away. While the prison population has grown, the opportunity for inmates to learn a skill or earn postsecondary academic certificates has shrunk.”

This is despite the fact that “Research shows overwhelmingly that vocational or academic education for people in prison mean they are much less likely to commit new offenses when released,” according to the report.

Sources: Herald-Review,

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