Prison Movement terms

Mass Incarceration: A term for describing the rising rates of incarceration in the United States. It points to racial discrimination in the War on Drugs, the School-to-Prison Pipeline and the Prison Industrial Complex as driving factors behind the growing rates of incarceration and recidivism. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences discusses mass incarceration in terms of “a rate of incarceration so high that it affects not only the individual offender, but also whole social groups.” Specifically, they point to the high numbers of African Americans incarcerated since the 1960s.

Prison Abolition Movement: A movement to dismantle the prison system and instead institute more humane, rehabilitative alternatives. Facets of this movement include ending mandatory minimum sentencing, exposing the racial bias in the War on Drugs and fighting to overturn wrongful convictions.

Prison Industrial Complex: The intersection between the prison system and industry. This includes the benefits corporations receive from supply contracts with prisons and cheap labor from prisoners. Journalist Eric Schlosser describes the ways in which depressed communities often view a prison as economic stimulus.

Prison Reform: A movement to improve the conditions inside the prison system without dismantling the system as a whole. This is distinct from Prison Abolition (discussed below) in that reformers may allow for leaving the system as a whole intact. American history illustrates many attempts at penal reform, such as parole, conditional sentencing, and education programs.

Recidivism: The rate of released inmates returning to prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study of prisoners released in 1994 in 15 states saw a 67.5% recidivism rate. Education, however, has been linked to reduced recidivism rates. There is a theoretical conflict, however, as to whether there there is selection bias in these numbers – individuals more inclined to seek educational programming may be less likely to reoffend.

School-to-Prison Pipeline: A way of funneling students from the school system into the correctional system through harsh punishments in schools. For example, zero-tolerance policies mean that behavior deemed “disturbances” could lead to arrest and juvenile detention. These policies disproportionately affect students of color. According to the ACLU, African American students are more likely to be suspended, expelled or arresting for committing the same offenses as white students, with African American students with learning disabilities at particular risk. Once in the juvenile hall system, students face severe educational setbacks and often never graduate high school. Their criminal history may also disqualify them from student loans, undermining their ability to receive a higher education.

Education Terms

Adult Basic Education:  Adult Basic Education (ABE) addresses primary literacy at three different levels. At San Quentin, ABE1 covers up to a 4th grade level, ABE2 addresses 4th-6th grade, and ABE3 is for 6th-9th grade.

Bibliotherapy: The notion expounded by prison reformers in the 1950s such as Herman Spector that advocated readings as a way reform the psyche of inmates. This involved only selective reading and often involved the censoring of prison libraries and writing. Historian Eric Cummins links this theory to the rise of the radical prison movement in the 1970s.

GED: General Educational Development. Adults 18 or over without a high school diploma may take this test to attain a High School Equivalency Certificate. For many prison education programs, this is the highest level of education offered.

Postsecondary Education: Another term for higher education, encompassing anything beyond a high school diploma or GED. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 removed prisoners from eligibility for Pell Grants, therefore eliminating access for many incarcerated individuals. According to the Prison Studies Project, some recent programs, such as the Second Chance Act, has made some provisions for postsecondary education for inmates. Most, however, have to rely on programs like the Prison University Project in order to attain a college education.

Pell Grants: Pell Grants are federal grants for education that do not require repayment. Currently, a student can receive up to $5,550 a year in Pell Grants, which can cover a significant portion of undergraduate costs. According to theFederal Education Budget Project, 9 million students accessed Pell Grants in 2012. This number does not, however, include any incarcerated students due to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1995.