During his 1894 “Blessings of Liberty and Education” address, Frederick Douglass asserted:
If a man is without education . . . he is a poor prisoner without hope . . . Education, on the other hand, means emancipation . . . To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness, and to defeat the very end of their being.
Perhaps this view of education as freedom is why some people believe that those who are serving time in carceral settings should not be exposed to educational programs. According to Werner (cited in Messemer, 2011), educating prisoners offers individual empowerment
—a perceived contradiction to notions of safety and security and the need to make inmates feel disempowered (Eisenberg, 2016). Why would we attempt to free someone we’ve just confined? First, we must recognize that the majority of crimes for which adults are convicted and children are adjudicated are non-violent offenses (Petteruti, Schindler, & Ziedenberg, 2014). Furthermore, with the exception of the 2,500 children (Rovner, 2016) and 160,000 adults (Nellis, 2013) in the United States who are currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, the majority of inmates will one day return to our communities (Tannis, 2014). If we harbor anger for the crimes they’ve committed and do nothing but “warehouse” them, a term frequently used, what do we expect from them and for our society? When one is convicted of a crime, should we in turn retaliate by committing one of the greatest crimes, as noted by Douglass—deny them an education?
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