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Cutting Gender and Women's Studies at UW could impact Wyoming's prisoners

Courtesy of Wyoming Department of Corrections

As the Wyoming Legislature debates the state's budget, some lawmakers are looking to axe the University of Wyoming's Gender and Women's Studies Program.

Cutting the program could have far-reaching implications.

Pathways from Prison offers free college courses to incarcerated men and women. It's run through the Gender and Women's Studies program at the University of Wyoming – meaning that it could be cut if the Wyoming Legislature eliminates that program.

Co-director Robert Colter said Pathways from Prison offers opportunities to one of Wyoming's most disadvantaged groups.

"Incarcerated populations are among the most marginalized people in Wyoming," he said. "They have the fewest opportunities – even after they're released - because we have this popular notion of an 'ex-con.'"

Colter said prison education is also pragmatic and cost-effective for the people of Wyoming.

Prisoners who receive education while behind bars are significantly less likely to wind up back in prison.

Without prison education, formerly incarcerated folks are more likely than not to be rearrested and reincarcerated. About 68 percent of former prisoners are rearrested within three years and more than 76 percent are arrested within five years, according to a Northwestern University analysis of U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But prison education – even taking just one course – reduces that recidivism rate by 43 percent. If prisoners earn an associate's degree behind bars, the recidivism rate drops to 14 percent, and even lower for higher degrees.

"Education tracks really closely with the reduction of recidivism rates, rearrests and reincarcerations," Colter said. "I think that's a social good. What that means is people are coming out and not recommitting crimes."

Colter said coursework from philosophy, gender and women's studies, and other areas can help prisoners better understand their situation, and better prepare them to meaningfully re-engage with society.

"I also think some of the topics that my colleagues in Gender and Women's Studies study are particularly apt for teaching this population," Colter said. "For example, how do carceral systems treat women as opposed to how they treat men? Are there gender-related disparities in sentencing?"

Colter said courses from Gender and Women's Studies are among the most popular offered through Pathways from Prison.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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