BY: DEVON PETLEY
Diane Ortiz was released from Albion Correctional Facility twelve months ago, roughly the same time U.S. labor and financial markets were in free fall and national talk was focused on averting the second Great Depression. Since that time, revered financial behemoths have died, stock markets have crashed, and the national economy has shed nearly four million jobs. Diane’s own story may lack the drama of Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, but for formerly incarcerated women, her yearlong struggle to find steady work tells an all too typical story: women with criminal pasts are not likely to find jobs in a labor market with an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent.
BY: CHARLES T. HOXIE
After just three semesters at New York University, Nancy Jordan’s world turned upside down. An argument with her boyfriend exploded into violence, and Jordan’s actions landed her 31 months in prison. But she did not stop learning.
Through the Bard Prison Initiative, Jordan continued her college education, taking Bard College courses at Bayview Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Manhattan.
“It honed my skills so that they didn’t become rusty,” Jordan says. “I took an anthropology class that made me think; when I came out, I looked at things differently.”
Nationwide, stories like Jordan’s are becoming less and less common. Although according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, one out of every ten inmates participates in college courses, these numbers are on the decline, while the level of participation in vocational programs has remained stable at around 30 percent. In the midst of shrinking budgets, correctional facilities across the country are shedding their higher education programs and turning to more affordable options like vocational training, which prepares inmates for a specific trade. Such programs are sometimes sponsored by local businesses, which significantly defrays costs.