If I am still incarcerated. what barriers might I face in pursuing my education?
Thankfully, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and the California Department of Education (California DOE) have all recognized that providing educational opportunities to people who are incarcerated is critical to rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. However, the systems are far from perfect, and it is important for you to be aware of the obstacles you may face when you are pursuing an education while incarcerated. Be patient! There is almost always a way to make it work if you are dedicated to reaching your educational goals.
Next, we go through common issues you may face when pursuing your education while incarcerated, followed by suggestions to help you achieve your goals in spite of these challenges.
The programs I need are just not available.
The quality and availability of programs for different educational needs varies greatly from facility to facility. Additionally, even if your facility offers the program you want, there are often long waitlists to get enrolled.
Suggestion: Try supplementing your coursework with a correspondence course or related self-study. If you are waiting to get into a class, find out what the students are learning about—maybe you can get a head start!
The prison mail system is getting in the way.
If you decide to take a correspondence course, or if you want to create your own self-study program, you may find that the prison mail system is frustrating your efforts. Materials and assignments may be slow in getting to you, and some items may not get to you at all because they are not allowed by your facility. All of this could mean significant delays in your studies or prevent you from completing them at all.
Suggestion: Be patient. There is no time limit on most correspondence courses—you can take as long as you need to complete the coursework. The goal is to learn the materials and pass the class, no matter how long it takes. Slow progress is still progress! If you find that your facility is overly restrictive in what materials it will allow in, try writing to the correspondence course administrator to explain your situation. See if he or she can put the materials into a format that your facility will be less likely to object to. (For a list of schools with a history of successfully offering correspondence courses to incarcerated people, see Appendix D, PG. 898.)
I can’t afford the cost of programs and/or materials.
For any program or course that is not offered by the facility directly, you will be responsible for the cost of any necessary books, materials, or course fees. If you cannot afford these expenses, you may be prevented from participating in the program or taking the course.
Suggestion: Try to find someone else at your facility who is taking or has taken the course. See if that person is willing to share materials with you or donate them to you when he or she is done. Look into financial aid options to help with your costs. Some forms of financial aid are available while you are incarcerated, and there are even special scholarships to help incarcerated people afford textbooks and materials. (See Paying for Your Education, PG. 881 for more information about these programs.)
I have limited access to technologies.
Distance Education courses commonly require that you have access to certain technologies (audio/video equipment, computers, the Internet) in order to participate in the program (except for traditional mail-only correspondence courses). If you don’t have a way to use the media that contains the course content, you won’t be able to take the course.
Suggestion: Shop around for a course that doesn’t require the use of equipment that you don’t have. Try signing up for a program or activity in your facility that will give you access to the technology you need and will allow you to use it in your spare time (make sure you are authorized to do so!).
I am not eligible for financial aid.
Certain types of financial aid are not available to you while you are incarcerated, and other types are not available if you have certain types of convictions.
Suggestion: Apply for the types of financial aid that are available to you while you are incarcerated. Plus, while you are incarcerated, you can apply for financial aid that you will become eligible for once you are released, so the money will be ready for you when you get out. (For more information about financial aid, see Paying for your Education, PG. 881.)