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. Many 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 risks of re-offending.
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 students at The Evergreen State College.
Senior James Jackson, “JJ,” welcomes and advises formerly incarcerated students on how to navigate our college and its many 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 juvenile offenders.
Last week, JJ’s work was 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 in Seattle.
Formerly incarcerated himself, JJ’s efforts will play a role in reducing recidivism in our state. Former offenders 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. Levels of crime will be lower, fewer community members will be victimized, the burden of arresting, prosecuting and sentencing those convicted will diminish, and fewer people will return to our prisons and jails.
At Evergreen, initiatives like JJ’s are often fueled by our students. The challenges that incarcerated men and women 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.