Community College Education Programs for Inmates

Community colleges provide two-thirds of post-secondary education for inmates. Colleges are local, instructors can teach adults with different backgrounds and education, and tuition is more affordable. How involved colleges are in correctional education varies. Cooperation between correctional and educational leaders can maximize opportunities for inmates—prisoners who receive college education are much less likely to re-offend.  Still, too few prisoners have access to community college.

Community Colleges Are a Great Option for Prisoners

Instructors outside of the prison system are usually needed to teach post-secondary courses. Two-thirds of the time, teachers come from local community colleges (Tolbert, 2009).

Community colleges are a great option for prisoners.  Colleges are local, instructors can teach adults with different backgrounds and education levels, and courses are usually more affordable.

Colleges Can Be Local, Regional, or National Providers of Correctional Education

How involved colleges are in correctional education varies. Click on the infographic to learn about the effectiveness of education and prisoner enrollment.
Look at a few examples:

  • Springfield Technical Community College in Ludlow, Massachusetts, offers college courses at Hampden County House of Correction (Burke & Vivian, 2001).
  • Marymount Manhattan College provides college courses to female inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York (Fine, Torre, Boudin, et al., 2001).
  • Washington State’s Walla Walla Community College offers prisoners academic and vocational courses.  Through funding, the college offers inmates free courses, textbooks, and supplies. In 2010, 350 inmates were enrolled in the Associate of Arts degree program, 11 inmates graduated, and 800 were enrolled in vocational courses (Tolbert, 2009).
  • California’s Coastline Community College provides distance education across California to more than 3,000 inmates at 57 correctional institutions across California (Erisman & Contardo, 2005).
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College provides distance learning to prisoners in Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin (Tolbert, 2009).

Collaborating to Maximize Opportunities for Inmates

Providing education to prisoners locally is possible when correctional institutions and community colleges cooperate. Increasing national participation requires serious coordination, and some states have established partnerships and steering committees for that reason.  For example:

  • Ohio founded the Ohio Penal Education Consortium in 1979. It coordinates between the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and the community college and university systems.
  • The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the Washington Department of Corrections help improve correctional education (Tolbert, 2009).
  • North Carolina community colleges provide more than 90% of post-secondary education for state inmates. The state legislature created a partnership in 1987 between the Department of Corrections and the North Carolina Community College System.  Click on the infographic to discover the recidivism rate (Stevens & Ward, 1997).
  • The Minnesota Department of Corrections and the Correctional Education Higher Education Consortium founded the Minnesota Correctional Education Foundation.  It helps inmates earn associate degrees from Inver Hills Community College and aims to support at least 350 inmate students each year (Erisman & Contardo, 2005).
  • The Alabama legislature created the J.F. Ingram State Technical College in 1965 (Stevens & Ward, 1997).  Three campuses are linked to adjacent or nearby prisons, and offer programs inside other correctional facilities.  Funding is built into the state budget. Click on the infographic to discover the recidivism rate (Stevens & Ward, 1997).

Missed Opportunities

Providing quality post-secondary education to inmates is possible.  Yet, a 2010 survey showed only 6% of state prisoners were enrolled in post-secondary education, and education offered varies by state (Gorgol & Sponsler, 2001).

There are enormous benefits to educating prisoners. Fewer prisoners will re-offend, which saves money. Educated prisoners have higher employment rates and more successful reintegration into society, creating safer communities. It will take men and women who understand the importance of education, and who have the foresight and drive to push for change.


Burke, L. O., & Vivian, J. E. (2001). The effect of college programming on recidivism rates at the Hampden County House of Correction: a five-year study. Journal of Correctional Education, 52, 148-169.

Erisman, W., & Contardo, J. B. (2005). Learning to reduce recidivism: A 50-state analysis of post-secondary correctional education policy. Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Fine, M., Torre, M. E., Boudin, K., et al. (2001). Changing minds: The impact of college in a maximum security prison. The Graduate Research Center of the City University of New York and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. New York.

Gorgol, L. E., & Sponsler, B. A. (2001). Unlocking potential: Results of a national survey of post-secondary education in state prisons. Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Stevens, D. J., & Ward, C. S. (1997, September). College education and recidivism: Educating criminals is meritorious. Journal of Correctional Education, 48(3), 106-111.

Tolbert, M. (2009). Partnerships between community colleges and prisons: Providing workforce education and training to reduce recidivism. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Office of Correctional Education.