From a Seattle Times investigative piece on what appears to be a a pretty impressive prison labor scam in Washington:
While lawmakers have pushed to increase the number of inmate workers, they’ve limited the educational opportunities that could help offenders find work outside of prison.
As part of a “get tough on crime” effort, the Washington Legislature in 1995 passed a law prohibiting state money from being used for higher education in prisons. Some taxpayers had griped that inmates were getting college courses for free.
Rep. Larry Springer, a Democrat from Kirkland who serves as deputy majority leader, views the CI jobs as “basic skill” work that may only help former inmates find very low-paying jobs. The better use of tax dollars would be for higher education for higher-skilled jobs. (my emphasis)
The fact that people in prison are often serving sentences that eventually lead to release does seems to escape policymakers sometimes. I’m not sure I understand what the argument is for blocking prisoners’ access to things that are likely to decrease the likelihood that they will commit crimes again once released. But I’m all ears if you have one.
Perhaps the answer has something to do with the fact that most people leaving prison aren’t headed for the communities where those policymakers live.