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Articles by Eli Hager

How Trump Made a Tiny Christian College the Nation’s Biggest Prison Educator

by Eli Hager, The Marshall Project

Six years ago, Ashland University, a small Christian college in the north-central region of Ohio known as the “Buckeye Bible Belt,” was in trouble. The school was $70 million in debt, was given a “junk” rating by the investors’ service Moody’s, and was later cited by state officials for transcript manipulation, records show.

But under Donald Trump’s Department of Education, led by Betsy DeVos, Ashland’s fortunes have turned around. After being selected to participate in a federal financial aid initiative for incarcerated people, the university’s correctional education program was able to spread to more than 100 prisons and jails in 13 states, from Louisiana to Minnesota. Since 2017, it has enrolled nearly as many new students behind bars as make up its entire undergraduate student body, bringing in almost $30 million over that time period, according to school records as well as data provided by an Education Department spokesman.

No other college has been allowed to use federal funding to expand so widely and rapidly in correctional facilities over the past four years, nine prison education experts said in interviews. Despite Ashland’s relative obscurity, the school now appears to have a bigger footprint in ...

What the Government Shutdown Looks Like Inside Federal Prisons

Family visits canceled, guards driving for Uber, rising tensions and more. 

by Eli Hager, The Marshall Project

The partial U.S. government shutdown is now in its third week [as of January 7, 2019], due largely to President Trump’s insistence that Congress give him more than $5 billion for a border wall he says will keep criminals from entering the country through Mexico.

Meanwhile, the federal employees tasked with keeping the nation safe from people convicted of crimes – prison guards – are laboring without pay.

Because the federal Bureau of Prisons is operating without funding, it has furloughed up to half of its 36,000-person staff, including many who provide therapeutic programs for prisoners and other services considered not to be “essential.” And the agency is asking its remaining employees to keep working unpaid, focusing on maintaining security even if that’s not usually their primary job.

This could remain the state of affairs until the next pay cycle in late January at the earliest – or even for months or years to come, according to Trump, who threatened to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress in the funding dispute.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” said John Kostelnik, president ...

Your Kid Goes to Jail, You Get the Bill

In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration.

Even if a child is later proved innocent, the parents still must pay a nightly rate for the detention. Bills run up to $1,000 a month, and many of the parents of Philadelphia’s roughly 730 detained children are so poor they can afford monthly installments of only $5.

The lawyer, Steven Kaplan – who according to his city contract is paid up to $316,000 a year in salary and bonuses, more than any city employee, including the mayor – is one agent of a deeply entrenched social policy that took root across the country in the 1970s and ‘80s. The guiding principle was simple: States, counties and cities believed that parents were shedding responsibility for their delinquent children and expecting the government to pick up the tab.

If parents shared the financial cost of incarceration, this thinking went, they would be more involved in keeping their children out of trouble.

“I mean, do we think ...