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Illinois to report for first time how many prisoners are taking college courses – and how many are waiting for access

Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

URBANA –This year, for the first time, public data on enrollment, demographics, and waitlists for higher education programs in Illinois prisons will be publicly accessible, thanks to recent legislation.

Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, said she sponsored the Higher Education in Prison Act as a step towards ensuring access to higher education programs in all Illinois prisons.

She pointed to data on how effective these programs can be. According to one of the most frequently cited analyses, participation in prison education programs reduced recidivism by 43 percent

“Seems to me we should be trying to use education to solve our public safety issues,” Ammons said.

The idea for the bill began when the Danville Correctional Center removed 200 books from its library in 2019. The incident drew media attention to prison education– including a series of investigations by Illinois Public Media– which brought together collaborators and created momentum for change, according to Ashton Hoselton. 

Hoselton worked on the law as the policy and research director for the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois. 

“At a very basic level, we don’t even know how many students are enrolled in programs. We don’t know if certain demographics are being left out, or if programming is being equitably offered,” she said.

She is excited to see the data on waitlists and student grievances that are required to be reported as well. She said that will provide information on where and how to expand education access.

The Higher Education in Prison Act went into effect in January. The first Department of Corrections report on the data is required to be online by September.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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