Thursday 8 January 2015

Blog Tour Spotlight - College for Convicts by Christopher Zoukis

College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons
Author: Christopher Zoukis
Publisher: McFarland and Company

Pages: 300

Genre: Social Sciences/Education

Book Description:
Provide education to prisoners and they won’t return to crime. America accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, yet incarcerates about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners with about 2.3 million men and women in U.S. facilities. Examining a wealth of studies by researchers and correctional professionals, and the experience of educators, this book finds an irrefutable conclusion: the likelihood of an undereducated prisoner returning to crime is high, but recidivism rates drop in direct correlation with the amount of education prisoners receive, and the rate drops dramatically with each additional level of education attained.

Presenting a workable solution to America’s over incarceration and recidivism problems, this book demonstrates that great fiscal benefits arise when modest sums are spent educating prisoners, instead of dedicating exponentially higher resources to confining them. Educating prisoners brings a reduction in crime and social disruption, reduced domestic spending and a rise in quality of life.

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Hundreds of articles and studies about prison education, and many papers presented at academic and professional conferences, almost all come to the same conclusions:
  • Prison education reduces crime,
  • Prison education reduces recidivism, and
  • Prison education will make an enormously positive impact on our national economy.
This is an idea that evokes a lot of controversy, because most people are more concerned with educating their own children than educating prisoners. And the idea of providing post-secondary education in prisons is a hard sell because most of the public is unaware of how it can impact our economy and the safety of our communities.

Let’s understand from the start: the concept of educating prisoners is not a “bleeding-heart, humanitarian, feel-good-for-the-imprisoned” kind of cause. On the contrary, it is an issue with huge impact upon the economic stability of our country, the protection of our communities, and a higher quality of life for law-abiding citizens.

Consider this: the US accounts for only 5% of the world’s population, but it holds 25% of the entire world’s prisoners. There is something wrong with this picture. With our prison population now at 2.3 million, we, as a nation, incarcerate far more people per capita than any other country in the world – almost double the next closest nation. Our state and federal prison population has increased almost ten-fold since 1970 and this explosive growth not only creates an untenable financial burden for state and national budgets, but also creates an impossible situation for our judiciary overburdened by high recidivism rates. In some states, like California, prisons are so overcrowded that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state had to reduce their prisoner population by tens of thousands because the state’s system was “incompatible with the concept of human dignity”.

The growth rate in federal prisons is even worse than that of the states. While state prison populations dropped in 2009 and 2010, federal prisons are bursting at the seams, and federal prison budgets are increasing by 10% a year to accommodate the ever-growing prison population. Lawmakers are calling for the creation of a second federal “supermax” similar to “the notorious Florence ADX in Colorado – a place where solitary confinement has been raised to a torturous art, and prisoners seldom, if ever, see another human being. Conditions at this ‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’ are so harsh that the European Court of Human Rights initially refused to extradite terrorism suspects to the United States lest they end up in ADX”.

Hundreds of studies and all the research in the field of criminology affirm that prison education is the least expensive and most effective solution to overcrowding and strain on the budget caused by recidivism. Nevertheless, despite overwhelming evidence, policy makers and the general public still do not support funding post-secondary higher education in prisons. Year after year, even the most basic correctional educational programs are further reduced. Computers are not allowed. The result? Increased prisoner unrest and violence, and even more money spent for additional security.

Today, higher education for prisoners is almost non-existent. And, as we shall see, our failure to invest in opportunities for correctional college education weakens the very fabric of our society. With proper implementation, the impact of prison education can be enormous – not just on prisoners, but on our entire society and our nation’s prosperity. Let us hope that greater understanding will result in wise legislative action for our common good.

“In response to the American public’s growing fear of crime and the call for more punitive measures…, many legislators and policymakers have promoted building more prisons, enacting harsher sentencing legislation, and eliminating various programs inside prisons and jails. But more than half these prisoners are in on drug charges and another 10% on immigration violations, so that more than 72% of our incarcerated population are offenders with no history of violence. With re-arrest rates averaging around 67% to 80%, it is clear that incarceration alone is not working”.

In the opinion of Chief Justice William Ray Price of the Supreme Court of Missouri, “We may have been tough on crime, but we have not been smart on crime.” He noted further, “For years we have waged a ‘war on drugs,’ enacted ‘three strikes and you’re out’ sentencing laws, and thrown away the key to be tough on crime. What we did not do was check to see how much it costs, or whether we were winning or losing. In fact, it has cost us billions of dollars and we have just as much crime now as we did when we started.”

Despite all the studies that confirm society and the nation as a whole will reap significant benefits, the idea of providing post-secondary education in prisons is a hard sell. The public appears to have a visceral, but understandable, reaction against the idea of higher education for prisoners. Why, people ask, should Americans pay to provide a college education for prisoners when so many law-abiding, tax-paying citizens struggle to send themselves or their children to school? It doesn’t seem fair. Honest people have to pay to receive an education; why should prisoners get it for free?

And besides, say some of the opponents to correctional education, if we provide a learning environment for prisoners, perhaps prison will seem less terrible and serve as a less effective deterrent to crime. However, the deterrent argument fails, because people do not decide whether or not to commit a crime based on the program opportunities available if they are caught and sent to prison.

Others believe that people who commit a crime have chosen to limit their opportunities and freedoms, including access to valuable privileges like education. Therefore, handing it free to people who break the law feels wrong, feels like a slap in the face of justice.

These are legitimate concerns, but there are strong, legitimate solutions.

Make no mistake. Despite the fact that I am a prisoner myself, I do not dispute the concept of getting tough on crime. I do not advocate creating a cushy environment for prisoners. And I certainly do not propose taking privileges from deserving, hard-working people to pamper prisoners. That is not what educating prisoners is about.

So why, then, should we care about educating prisoners, educating people who didn’t care about the victims they hurt, the communities they impoverished, and the society they endangered?

We care, very simply, because they get out.  Almost everyone who is locked up now is going to be set free one day. If we treat prisoners like animals the whole time they’re locked up, that’s what we’ll get when they’re back on the streets: wild, dangerous animals.  But if we educate these people, give them some positive reinforcement, and introduce the idea that they’ll have something to offer society when they return to their communities, that’s what we’ll get when they are free: people who have something to offer society.”

About the Author
Christopher Zoukis, a 28-year-old writer who is incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active advocate for prison education and prisoners' rights in this nation's prison systems, a noted legal commentator and practitioner, and a prolific writer of books, articles, and legal treatise.
Criminal Justice Books
Mr. Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland and Company, 2014), United Blood Nation: The Story of the East Coast Bloods (Headpress, 2015), the Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2014), and Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012).
Legal Articles
In addition to his books, Mr. Zoukis is also a contributing writer at Huffington Post, Blog Critics, and Prison Legal News, and is a New York Journal of Books authorized book reviewer.  His book reviews, articles, and essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, AND Society, along with content being syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, Yahoo News, and the FedCURE News Network.
Writing Awards
In 2011, Mr. Zoukis' creative work won PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for his screenplay "Healing Bin Laden" (Drama-Second Place) and his short story "Jesusland" (Fiction-Honorable Mention).  And in 2014, Mr. Zoukis' Directory of Federal Prisons e-book won the prestigious Independent Book Publishers Association's Silver Benjamin Franklin Digital Book Award.
Websites and Legal Writing Commitments
In addition to his award winning writing, Mr. Zoukis is the founder of,, and a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter.  He is a contributing writer at Prison Legal News and the Huffington Post, along with being a former staff writer at the State and Federal Criminal Law Review, The Update: Federal Criminal and Immigration Law, and the Texas Criminal Law Review.
Legal Projects
Currently, Mr. Zoukis is engaged in a number of larger legal and non-legal projects.  On the legal side, he is currently suing the Federal Bureau of Prisons over their refusal to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD), lack of adequate dental care for federal inmates, and is assisting several inmates seeking treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) that is in line with prevailing community standards of care and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Professional Standards.  Mr. Zoukis is currently assisting two transgender federal inmates in suits against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (along with counseling and handling administrative remedies for half a dozen others), and is litigating on behalf of both prisoners in the Virginia State Supreme Court in an effort to effectuate name changes.
Writing and advocating for prison education and prisoners' rights isn't all that Mr. Zoukis has been doing behind bars.  He has taught a popular course to over 100 fellow prisoners entitled "Writing and Publishing", and regularly advises fellow inmates and prison consulting groups about matters surrounding Federal Bureau of Prisons' policy and the federal regulations governing it.
Mr. Zoukis has become successful in the administrative and regulatory prison litigation realm and is now a sought after consultant on a number of matters (both in-prison and out-of-prison).  Following his release from custody in 2018, he plans to go into the prison consulting and litigation field.
Non-Legal Projects

On the non-legal side, Mr. Zoukis' literary team -- which is headed by Rachel Sentes of Gal Friday Publicity, Greg Aunapu of the Salkind Literary Agency, and Dr. Randall Radic of Middle Street Publishing -- are currently pitching several of Mr. Zoukis' novels and nonfiction works to publishers in the United States and Canada.  Two such titles are Mr. Zoukis' Facing Federal Incarceration book, and his debut science-fiction novel Hamish.
Legal Credentials and Associations
Mr. Zoukis holds numerous legal credentials as to paralegal studies and certification.  These include the following credentials from the Blackstone Career Institute:
·         Diploma in Paralegal Studies (with distinction)
·         Advanced Certificate in Criminal Law and Procedure
·         Advanced Certificate in Civil Litigation
·         Advanced Certificate in Business & Corporate Law
He is also a graduate of the Long Ridge Writers Group and graduated from Global University's Certified Minister Certificate Program.  Mr. Zoukis is currently enrolled at Adams State University, where he is nearing the completion of an additional Paralegal Certificate, and his Bachelors of Arts in Sociology (with an emphasis in criminology) degree.
Mr. Zoukis maintains strong ties with the prison, prison education, legal, and writing communities through his memberships with related organizations, several of which include:
·         American Bar Association, including:
·              ABA Criminal Justice Section
·              ABA Section on Litigation
·         American Civil Liberties Union
·         American Correctional Association
·         Correctional Education Association
·         National Association of Independent Writers and Editors
·         National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists
·         National Lawyers Guild
·         National Legal Aid & Defender Association, including:
·              NLA Appellate Defender Section
·         National Writers Association
·         National Writers Union
·         PEN American Center
·         Pennsylvania Prison Society
·         Society of Professional Journalists
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