Posted in Peg-o-Leg's Ramblings

Prisoners May Trade Get Out Of Jail Free Cards for Student IDs

Don't do the crime if you can't...pull an all-nighter for your English 101 final.
Don’t do the crime if you can’t…pull an all-nighter for your English 101 final.

Time for a pop quiz on current events, kiddies.  Which of the following statements is true?

  1. It costs a boatload of money to go to college
  2. Most Americans can’t afford to go without taking out student loans that they’ll be paying on for the rest of their natural lives and beyond
  3. It’s against the law for U.S. tax $$ to be used to pay for college tuition for criminals while in jail
  4. U.S. tax $$ will be used to pay for college for criminals while in jail
  5. All of the above

Did you choose answer # 5, “All of the above?” Good job, boys and girls!

It was recently announced that the U.S. Education Department plans to provide federal student aid so that criminals can attend college while behind bars. This would come in the form of Pell grants, a type of student aid intended for low income students. Unlike loans, these do not have to be paid back.

Congress passed a law in the 1990s which prohibits the government from spending our tax dollars to send inmates to college. In case the reasoning behind this law is not glaringly obvious: inmates are criminals who are supposed to be paying their debt TO society. They are not supposed to be receiving free perks which are better than those enjoyed by the poor, working stiffs who are trying to shoulder the already enormous and still increasing debt OF society.

It turns out that the non-elected bureaucrats at the Education Department, under the direction of the Executive Branch, are allowed to spend oodles of our money on things our elected representatives have specifically banned because, well, they want to.

The Education Department will get around the legal ban by the brilliantly simple expedient of not calling it “student aid.” One might think that money given to students to attend college would be the very definition of “student aid,” but au contraire.  This is one of the few instances where the old adage, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably IS a duck” lays an egg.  The Education Department has decreed this is not “student aid”; it is merely a “pilot program.”  By calling it that, they can “test the effectiveness of temporary changes to the way federal student aid is distributed.”

Supporters say educational programs in jail are cost-effective when compared to the cost of re-incarceration. Opponents say that while providing basic education and/or job training to the woefully uneducated may be in society’s best interest, a college degree is a whole, other kettle of fish.  It is a luxury, not a right.

Opponents further point out that even the brave men and women who have served in our military don’t get aid for college until AFTER they get out of the service, when they have earned the privilege through hard work and can attend on their own time.    Proponents counter that it would be unrealistic to expect inmates to go to school after they get out of prison, or pay for it by getting jobs and student loans like everybody else, because that’s really, really hard.

Advocates of the free tuition program imply that if inmates do not have a college degree when released, paid for by the taxpayer while living at the taxpayer’s expense, they will have no choice but to commit more crimes when they get out.  If a criminal winds up back in jail it is solely the fault of the heartless meanies who won’t foot the bill for said criminal’s degree in Pop-Culture Studies.

Following the logic of the Education Department, the Department of Corrections is starting a “pilot program” to provide each inmate with a Lamborghini when released from prison. It is clearly unjust that only rich folks can afford these. That injustice creates an unbearable temptation for the ex-offender to steal one, which could cause them to wind up right back in jail.  Preventing that is worth any cost.   Money for this experiment will also be furnished from the public trough with the understanding that it is merely a “pilot program” whose aim is to “test the effectiveness of temporary changes to the way luxury automobiles are distributed.”

Debate about the program comes at a time when the nation’s students are heading back to school.  Most are struggling to pay tuition costs which have skyrocketed at a rate much higher than inflation. The Institute for College Access and Success released statistics that 7 in 10 students graduated from college in 2013 with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt.

A lot of people are rethinking their options in the wake of the announcement that inmates will get free tuition.

Convicted drug dealers who recently had their sentences commuted by President Obama are taking a second look at their situations. When you add a free college education to already-free legal advice, free medical and free dental, many are saying, “No thanks, Mr. President, I think I’ll stay here.”  They figure they’d be better off trading in their “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for student IDs.

Some college freshmen are considering funding their education using skills learned playing countless hours of the video game, Grand Theft Auto.  All they have to do is steal a Lamborghini of their own, and they’re guaranteed a full ride to Sing-Sing University



R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!

36 thoughts on “Prisoners May Trade Get Out Of Jail Free Cards for Student IDs

  1. Did you know how much crime inequality is there – that is, how few blue collar criminals go on to commit white collar crime? But being able to earn a college degree helps the prisoners move up and bridges this inequality.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Now I’m mad!!! I had to struggle to pay off my loans from my BA.
    Thankfully you have given me the solution to getting my Masters.
    Thanks Peg! When I get caught stealing my very own Lamborghini, I’ll tell them you sent me!


  3. This is clearly a step in the right direction for giving criminals more than the rest of us, but it falls short. The government will figure out that there is one more critical step – starting in a few years, legislation will be proposed which will ban prospective employers from asking whether a job applicant has ever served time in prison. Once that barrier is out of the way, there is nothing standing in the way of the incarcerated becoming the new leaders of society. I’m guessing the legislators will not like the competition.


  4. I would argue that the ACTUAL amount owed on student loans is far greater than $28K. One must factor in the cost of student loan debt that parents carry. If that number was assessed it would be mind-numbing.

    The system is beyond broken, but what politician has to fret over it? Zip. Zero. Nada.


    1. I agree – to a point. I’d rather see an ex-con with a high school diploma and a marketable job skill. I don’t want to pay for Johnny Jailbird’s advanced degree. Not when my kids, both of whom went to college instead of to prison, have a ton of student loan debt.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My brother-in-law is a former prison guard. He told me that, at least in NYS, they have a program now for basic education (like ESL–English as a Second Language and basic math skills). When I was teaching college in the early 1990s, they had college classes for inmates paid for with state monies. It was a big deal when the state stopped funding that program (in terms of revenue to the college). I’m sure it was disappointing for inmates trying to achieve an education, as well.

    Like all issues, this one is more complex than it looks. I can see both sides. It’s not fair that most students must sink into debt to get a college degree while prisoners are offered the chance at one without any debt at all. But not all prisoners have the option for this program, I assure you. Prisoners must qualify for any of these special programs with extremely good behavior and recommendations from their counselors that they will benefit from the education after release. In other words, they have to be deemed worthy of the investment. NYS got rid of the program because they couldn’t justify rising student debt in the face of handing tuition breaks to even “worthy” prisoners.

    Prison is not a fun or luxurious place to live, no matter how many free meals. Is it better than living with your freedom and being homeless? I can’t say because I haven’t lived in either situation and don’t have a way to compare the two lifestyles. I do know this, however, from my brother-in-law: the programs they have in prison improve the quality of life of prisoners and help to make a dangerous place (for the guards) less dangerous. When people are treated humanely, they act more human.

    This is not to say that society should shower prisoners with advantages not given to law-abiding citizens, but neither should we believe that every inmate is deserving of nothing simply because they are in prison–which is a stance quite easy to take when we don’t think about the inequities of the criminal justice system.

    Okay. Enough. I said it was complicated.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m interested in what the UK ad other countries in Europe and Scandinavia do. The government pay for higher education and, in turn, young people give a certain number of years in service to the country (not necessarily the military). They are paid while in service, but not that much. But it’s a “greater good” philosophical basis that goes against the American individualism pull-yourself-up-by your-own-bootstraps or tangle-yourself-up-in-them–your choice. I just doubt that most people really have much of a choice beyond controlling minor external factors and their own attitudes, of course.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. Not every employer may ask a person for criminal records, only certain things, like fraud for an accountant, criminal records for guards (as those may have weapons – weapon use is much more restricted in Germany!), pedophilia for child minders etc. – if it influences the trade the convict wants to grab, it has to be revealed (and they may even ask the authorities for that) – but things that lie back in your youth, things that have passed a long time (but murder) – those things may escape a future employer. That is – not if you ask or employment by the state.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Here in the US, your criminal history is a standard question on most job applications, regardless of the job you are applying for. Small businesses are often the only places people with criminals records can find employment because they are not subject to the same regulations as larger businesses are and they still have that “human touch.”

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Lorna. Of course it isn’t an easy question, and there are a lot of nuances.

      I don’t believe that our only options with prisoners are showering with advantages or believing they deserve nothing. I do think the point of prison should be punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation, where it makes sense.

      My point with this piece is twofold.
      1) I do think that a college education falls under the heading “showering with advantages.”
      2) Regardless of what you and I think about it, it IS the law that this shall NOT be done. It frosts my cookies that career bureaucrats get to go around laws laid down by our elected officials. If they don’t like the law, they should work to change it.

      Hopping off soapbox.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I agree. Too many loopholes. It’s the law, not a sweater knitted by me (the person who should never wield two long pointy objects and string and expect anything good to come out of it). 😉


  6. Our graduate students are coming out with huge debts now too over here, it’s just not a good way to start their adult life is it. Not sure what the prisoners get education-wise, I know they get some stuff, but not sure whether full degrees. I’m pretty sure they do get the Lamborghini though, and a free foot-long sub.


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