Prison College on Hold, Except Where Workarounds are Found

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College administrators are scrambling to figure out how to finish the semester in prison college programs, which usually cannot rely on the video-conferencing tools that ordinary college programs resorted to during the coronavirus shutdown, the Marshall Project reports. With limited options for distance learning, many have found workarounds now that they can no longer enter the prisons. But many other programs have been shut down, leaving advocates to fear severe disruptions in their mission to teach college courses behind bars.

At Maine Correctional Facility, officials reconfigured a prison classroom to hold classes over Zoom using the Internet from an administrator’s computer. Officials at Saginaw Correctional Facility in Michigan waived a ban on communication between volunteers and prisoners so that Delta College professors could instruct their students over email. Many prisons are operating with a reduced workforce, and can’t spare the staff to keep the college programs running. But there’s an understanding among prison officials of the value of education programs, especially during a crisis, says Ruth Delaney, who provides assistance to college sites for the Vera Institute of Justice. “Tensions are high,” Delaney said. “Being able to give people something familiar, and engaging can really help to make sure all the resources are focused on fighting coronavirus.”

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