A College For Inmates, And An Interview With Its President

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90.3 WBHM DEATSVILLE, Ala. – The United States locks up people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. Some of the most overcrowded prisons are right here in Alabama. Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is one of them. It’s also been under federal investigation for sex abuse by guards. But some inmates there have access to a unique state-funded program that offers academics and life skills they’ll need after release. The problem is, this J.F. Ingram State Technical College program, which could ease overcrowding, is struggling for funds. WBHM’s education reporter Dan Carsen has the story and a full-length interview with J.F. Ingram’s president.

Click here to listen to the story or join the national conversation at npr.org.

Below is our full-length interview with J.F. Ingram State president Dr. Hank Dasinger.

“We’re In The Business Of Hope-Restoration”

Dr. Hank Dasinger, president of Alabama’s J.F. Ingram State Technical College, the only state-run two-year college whose student body is 100 percent incarcerated. Photo by Dan Carsen.

Now Dan’s interview with the man leading that unique college, J.F. Ingram’s president Dr. Hank Dasinger.
Dan starts by asking the longtime educator why he came to Ingram two years ago:

Below is a subject index with approximate time pegs for the extended interview:

0:00 — Dan asks Dr. Dasinger about the mission of J.F. Ingram State Technical College.

0:30 — Asked about J.F. Ingram’s uniqueness as a state two-year college for inmates, Dasinger outlines the school’s history and the implications of its unusual situation.

1:30 — Prompted by Dasinger’s explanation, Dan asks why other states don’t do it that way.

2:25 — Political issues, turf issues.

2:48 — “I think we’ve got it right in the state.”

3:28 — “This is my bucket-list job.”

4:18 — The opportunity to develop people, give second, third, last chances.

4:50“We’re in the business of hope-restoration.”

5:35 — Dasinger explains why he thinks Ingram’s new lifeskills program is important.

7:25 — The “three legs of the stool.” Without basic education, vocational training, and life skills, Dasinger says, the stool falls over, which means recidivism.

7:50 — Dan asks about the contextual hurdles, including politics in a tough-on-crime, fiscally conservative state.

8:12 — People are generally not patient, and judgmental when it comes to incarcerated people, he says.

8:43 — Dasinger favors accountability, but not barriers making it impossible for inmates to return to society once they’ve served their time: that’s “dumb on crime.”

8:57 — State senator Cam Ward as an example of a shift in thinking.

9:28 — Dasinger cites a major RAND Corporation meta-analysis showing the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of correctional education: “It pays for itself.”

10:20 — “Tough on crime” is an oversimplification of a complex problem, he says; education and addressing at-risk students early are part of the picture, too.

10:57“Tough on crime just doesn’t cut it. It falls short. We need smart on crime.”

11:02 — Dan asks about the threat of federal intervention in Alabama’s prison system.

11:33 — “We’re at a crossroads … The nation is watching.”

12:45 — Reasons for realism.

13:05 — Dasinger says the thought of educating rapists and murderers is emotionally powerful and puts pressure on politicians … to the point it steers us away from what he thinks is actually best — and safest — for the state.

13:33Dasinger says 95 percent of incarcerated people get out. “The question is how.”

13:40 — Dan points out the lifeskills classes he saw weren’t reaching very many inmates.

14:40 — Dasinger says it really is simple, it really is a matter of funding. More students in J.F. Ingram’s case does not translate to more “tuition.”

15:25 — An explanation of where Ingram’s funding comes from.

16:27 — Dasinger lists some expenses he’s cut to save money.

18:09 — He was surprised at budget cuts, even when legislators knew about the overcrowding problem.

18:55 — Dasinger confesses to a “narrow perspective,” but

19:06 — He explains fiscal arguments for correctional education.

19:36 — Dan asks how Dasinger can make the case for educating inmates when regular schools are struggling for funds.

20:13 — He says that’s an artificial dichotomy: “We need both.”

20:42“What we’re doing now is not working.”

20:47 — Dasinger says we simply can’t afford to do what Einstein described as the definition of insanity.

21:28 — “If we can get away from the emotion and look at the facts,” facts like…

22:03 — The U.S. leads the world in locking people up, and Alabama’s at the top of that pack…

22:15 — Dasinger says Alabama doesn’t have more wicked people, so what’s going on?

22:25 — Dan asks about the people of J.F. Ingram. Dasinger says they’re “an interesting lot…”

23:40 — They’re convicted, but in the right way.”

24:30“It gets inside your blood, your soul … If that doesn’t get your emotions going … check your pulse.”

25:16 — A more detailed discussion of the RAND report.

26:48 — Parallels to investing in anything: “you have to reach that critical point.”

26:53 — Dan asks what a good, effective correctional education program looks like.

27:43 — Dan asks how Dasinger will know whether the new lifeskills pilot program is working.

29:11 — Would a bump in the allocation from the legislature mean more money for the lifeskills program?

29:33The strange situation of a state two-year college currently not offering two-year college degrees.

32:08 — Dasinger says what seem like small cuts are huge when you’re not talking about a lot of money to begin with.

32:50 — Dan asks about the work crews he saw leaving the campus earlier that morning.

33:40 — Work release is an attractive option for inmates that actually works against J.F. Ingram’s goals…

34:08 — Dan asks Dasinger about his relatives who’ve gotten in trouble with the law.

36:51The inmates have a name for the thought processes that got them in trouble: “stinkin’ thinkin.'”

37:57 — Dan asks if Dasinger having incarcerated relatives helps Dasinger avoid seeing inmates as “other.”

38:13A fundamental belief human beings can change…

38:49 — Dan asks the former high-ranking Air Force officer and marksmanship trainer about past work experiences.

42:42 — “The South is in my blood.”

42:56“This was a bucket-list thing for me. There’s nothing else I want to do.”

Dan’s education reporting can be found here.

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