A new Indiana law denying state grants for college education to prison inmates has cost the jobs of more than 70 Ball State University employees.
State legislators last year cut off Frank O'Bannon grants to inmates, including about 1,000 enrolled in Ball State classes. Those cuts mean a loss of about $3 million a year to Ball State and have resulted in the loss of all but four of Ball State's 80 prison teaching jobs. Most of those positions were filled by part-time adjunct faculty.
The grants were curtailed because legislators didn't think it was right for felons to receive free college education on the backs of taxpayers while tuition costs were becoming unaffordable for many families.
"We are exploring options, but there is nothing firm now," Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison told The Star Press of Muncie. "One possibility is an offender-funded correspondence course. Another is a very limited program at one or two facilities that may involve the use of college-accredited volunteer instructors. This is all very preliminary and I have no more details than this."
Unemployment is often cited as a reason for repeat offenses, and program supporters say the education cuts could result in released prisoners having more trouble finding jobs.
Sentences for offenders who earn a bachelor's degree are reduced by two years, and those who earn an associate's degree are released a year early.
The Frank O'Bannon grants are funded by the state, do not require repayment and had been made available to students in prison and traditional college students. But a state law enacted last year prohibits the grants from going to inmates.
Statewide, nearly 2,500 inmates received more than $9 million in O'Bannon grants in 2009-10. More than 1,000 were enrolled in Ball State and received about $2.8 million. Ball State was the largest educator of inmates in Indiana, employing faculty and site managers inside five state prisons.
Other colleges that were involved included Oakland City University, Indiana State University, Purdue University North Central and Grace College.
John Nally, director of education at the prison agency, had told The Star Press that Indiana's correctional education program had been the largest in the nation.