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Educating inmates: Is it worth it?

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Inmate graduation
In this Oct. 7, 2010 photo, a graduate holds her GED diploma during the graduation ceremony at the Homestead Correctional Institution in Homestead, Fla.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Education for prison inmates has been shown to reduce recidivism rates, but funding for such programs is increasingly hard to secure. President Clinton ended the program that allowed Pell grants to be used for prisoners back in 1994, and Congress didn't renew the "Specter" funds, named after former Sen. Arlen Specter, for 2011-2012.

We wanted to discuss the topic in-depth after seeing a TED talk about educating prisoners. Earlier this month, financial expert Ruth Hayden was on The Daily Circuit talking about the high cost of college. If it's so hard for people who haven't committed crimes to get an education, is it fair that people in prison get one?

Joshua Page, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, will join The Daily Circuit Wednesday to talk about prison education.

"I can understand the idea that people think it's unfair for people in prison to get an education," he said. "It plays into the 'either/or' thinking about punishment: anything that is good for prisoners can't be good for the rest of us. But that's not true."

Page said there are great benefits to educating inmates.

"First of all, it's something to do," he said. "It's something that's productive and provides them a sense of fulfillment and hope. It gives them a way to develop a positive relationship with people and it provides them an opportunity that counteracts the stigma of being a felon. "

Stephen Steurer, executive director of the Correctional Education Association, and Robert Stewart, a sociology student at the University of Minnesota and former St. Cloud Prison inmate, will also join the discussion.

How have some programs managed to stay afloat? And is higher education something that should be available to prisoners, when it's so hard to come by for people in the general population?

Video: The Promise of Higher Education at San Quentin