Every year nearly 600,000 people are released from prisons in the United States. Once out, their success varies widely. For some, release is a revolving door and they end up back in prison for new crimes within a year.
But others go on to find jobs, create stable lives, and never return. And one path to that successful outcome is to complete a college degree.
College graduates have marketable skills that translate into better-paying jobs. They learn to collaborate, communicate, and become tech-fluent. They develop capacity for engaging and solving complex problems. Their better-paying jobs help them stabilize their lives and reduce recidivism.
In Washington, our colleges and universities are beginning to play a more active role in the prison to work pipeline. I know this thanks to the work of one of our recent graduates.
James Jackson ’19, “JJ,” welcomes and advises formerly incarcerated students on how to navigate our college and its many Choosing a New Path After Incarceration by George S. Bridges programs. Supported by the state Department of Corrections, JJ also participates actively in Evergreen’s pre-college program at the Green Hill School in Chehalis, a secure facility for incarcerated youth. As a graduate and former student in Evergreen’s Gateways for Incarcerated Youth program, JJ is now serving in our admissions office as Evergreen’s education re-entry navigator.
JJ’s work is being recognized. Each year, Washington’s governor selects three outstanding student leaders to receive a significant award for addressing critical issues in their communities. In recognition of his work with formerly incarcerated students, JJ received Gov. Jay Inslee’s Civic Leadership Award at the Students Serving Washington Awards Ceremony April 19, 2019 in Seattle.
Formerly incarcerated himself, JJ’s efforts will play a role in reducing recidivism in our state. Formerly incarcerated individuals will experience greater success in school, improved opportunities for meaningful work when they graduate, and more stable lives as citizens.
The impact on our communities can be significant. Fewer people will return to our prisons and jails, levels of crime will be lower, the burden of arresting, prosecuting, and sentencing will diminish, and fewer community members will be victimized.
At Evergreen, initiatives like JJ’s are often fueled by our students. The challenges that incarcerated people face on the “outside” are consequential. JJ’s award reminds us of what can happen when students study hard, embrace these types of challenges, and then create lasting solutions.