Governor Wolf Announces Million Dollar Federal Grant to Improve Prison Education System, Implement Career Pathways

November 06, 2015

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today announced the awarding of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education to DOC to improve prison education. The DOC will use the grant funds to prioritize adult offenders aged 25 and younger who are medium to high risk of reoffending.

“In order to truly make our system fairer and less costly, we need to create opportunity for young offenders to keep them from re-entering the system,” Governor Wolf said. “These funds will help Secretary Wetzel and Department of Corrections to bolster their efforts to reduce recidivism and prepare offenders for the world outside their walls.”

One of nine awardees nationwide and the only state corrections entity to receive the Improved Reentry Education award, the $1,084,522 grant covers a three-year period and is the largest single grant DOC has ever received.  Ninety percent of the grant — $976,301– is direct federal money, and DOC is matching that with $108,221 of in-kind funds

“We are extremely excited with the prospects that this grant offers our agency and our offenders,” Secretary Wetzel said.  “We plan to partner with a number of agencies and organizations and use their input along with the federal funds to restructure the delivery of educational, training and workforce programs to prepare offenders to have the skills and abilities to obtain and retain employment once released.”

Wetzel noted that the goal is to address the issue of underemployment for ex-offenders and to bridge the gap between prison and community-based education and training programs post incarceration.

“Education can be the one true equalizer, and with the growing focus on the improving people’s transition from prison to their communities, providing knowledge and skills will ensure our neighbors’ transition back to our communities prepared to contribute to the commonwealth and themselves. This initiative means Pennsylvania can set the standard,” Pedro A. Rivera said.

This grant will allow the DOC to reengineer how it assesses offenders and will provide the tools to help set offenders up for success.

“Ninety percent of state prison offenders return home.  With help from this grant, the DOC now will work to incorporate a career pathways approach through better program delivery and assessment of offender education levels, skills and career interests.  That assessment will help us to enter offenders into programs that are geared toward careers that best suit those levels and skills and that also meet employers’ recruiting needs,” Wetzel said.

“We need to provide offenders with the education and skills that fit the employer needs in the communities to which they will return after prison,” said PA Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino. “Helping them to gain and maintain employment is in everyone’s best interest. We look forward to continuing our cooperative relationship with the Department of Corrections and are excited by this new opportunity to positively impact public safety.”

Partnering with state agencies, higher education institutions such as community colleges and universities, local workforce development boards, employers/labor management and criminal justice representatives, the DOC expects the following outcomes:

  • Improved integration and quality of corrections education services.
  • Decreased overall recidivism rates.
  • Increased education and industry recognized credential attainment for DOC students.
  • Increased employment placement and retention for state offenders.
  • Increased earning potential for ex-offenders allowing for a continued payment by them of court costs, fines and restitution.
  • Establish a continuum of education that promotes in-reach and transitional support into the community.

According to Wetzel work in this area is necessary because:

  • 42 percent of state offenders have completed less than 12th grade education.
  • Average reading levels for male offenders is slightly below 8th grade; and for female offenders it is slightly below 9th grade.
  • 81 percent of state offenders report as having no skills/being unskilled.
  • 73 percent of offenders aged 25 and under will most likely be re-arrested or re-incarcerated within three years from time of release.
  • 1 in 28 adult Pennsylvania citizens are either incarcerated in a state prison or county jail or are under some form of supervision (probation & parole).

“We have always said that the more educated an individual is, the less likely he or she is to reoffend or commit new crimes.  That is the goal of this agency, to help offenders change their ways so they don’t commit new crimes.  Education is a component of this important recidivism reduction strategy,” Wetzel said.

Reengineering the DOC’s education system involves developing an assessment system at the front end that will evaluate each offender’s aptitude, interest and ability and then will use all that information to create an individualized plan to help the offender to have a successful career after release from prison. Wetzel said that this work will involve an advisory board of experts in the areas of higher education and businesses that will help guide DOC officials in this area.

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