In Favor of Education for Returning Citizens

Education initiatives for a demographic that some would label as “ex-offenders” are often met with skepticism or even hostility. Why should we have a special focus on people who betrayed society through criminal activity? If those who broke the law are denied opportunities for higher learning, isn’t that just a natural consequence of their actions? Can education even have a positive influence on people who have spent time in prison?

As an institution of higher learning, Eastern University has answered rather emphatically that yes, education can be of positive benefit, and even further, reducing barriers to higher education for “returning citizens” is a moral imperative. On Friday, June 10, President Robert G. Duffett and Executive Vice President Thomas Ridington represented Eastern University at the White House. Joining 24 other colleges, Eastern has opted to participate in President Obama’s Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, committing to reducing barriers to higher education for individuals with criminal records, including individuals who were formerly incarcerated. Each year, approximately 600,000 inmates are released from prison. Vice President Ridington, in a statement regarding Eastern’s new pledge, mentioned that this initiative is in keeping with the school’s mission to equip students for a life of service. In addition, this pledge demonstrates Eastern’s dedication to the outworking of the Gospel particularly as it pertains to social justice. Here are three reasons why Eastern’s commitment is an excellent decision that should be applauded:

First, this commitment is perfectly in keeping with Eastern’s mission statement, which includes an affirmation of its dedication to justice. Regarding this affirmation, Eastern’s website states the following: “In our commitment to sharing the whole Gospel to the whole world, we acknowledge with sorrow the brokenness of the world at personal, national and international levels. Thus we seek to work for Christian transformation, justice and reconciliation in all areas of life as these are grounded in our understanding of Christ’s calling to us. We particularly seek to work with and for the poor, oppressed and suffering persons, as part of our Christian discipleship.”

Second, the Christian tradition has always recognized that education goes hand in hand with spiritual growth and redemption. In a college commencement speech he gave inside a prison, Cardinal Dolan said, “In our interior life we locate reason, thinking, loving; we find character, value and virtue; and we nurture, strengthen and develop this interior life by study, reasoning, solid reading, questioning, wondering, education.” Education equips returning citizens with the foundation needed to grow as human beings.

Third and finally, education makes economic sense. Vocational training or college education opens the door to greater access to employment, and employment is a huge factor in reducing reincarceration. Returning citizens who are employed are much less likely to reoffend (reducing the taxpayer burden to sustain their prison duration), and employed returning citizens actually help society through meaningful work and the paying of taxes.


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