Higher & continuing education program for incarcerated women four-part plan:

First Lady Dawn Ige at tutor training completion ceremony 10/19/2021
First Lady Dawn Ige, newly certified tutor Cianna Cruz-Wallace &
Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna tutor certification ceremony 10/19/2021

1. Train and hire imprisoned peer educator tutors. Imprisoned women who apply and are vetted by WCCC, are trained as tutors for their less educated imprisoned peers. Cooperative learning methodology is used to provide the program. Imprisoned women at WCCC work who complete training work as peer tutors. They each completed a tutor training course and have been certified to tutor their peers on passing the GED. The tutors are compensated and HFRJ provides facilitators for backup assistance. The tutors are compensated $3.00 per hour, which is the highest compensation paid to date at WCCC for the imprisoned. Currently, there is a $100 monthly cap on their income. The cooperative learning methodology (see Jigsaw method for more) is used to train the tutors. While the average incarcerated person in Hawai‘i has a 5th to 6th grade education, some women have lower educational levels. Tutors can also help women learn the skills they need to move up grade levels, help them pass GED courses, and take and pass community college level courses. The tutoring program has two-fold value: the women being tutored learn and the women tutoring also learn. Albert Bandura, the fourth most quoted psychologist in the world, and whose work on agency and self-efficacy is seminal, is aware of HFRJ’s work. Dr. Bandura has stated that he is “impressed” with HFRJ’s approach (p. 53 Walker & Kobayashi).

Four cohorts of imprisoned women have been trained as tutors as of December 2022. After the first cohort was trained by HFRJ, the women tutors, with HFRJ’s support, have provided the tutor training to new prospective tutors.

While it may sound overly optimistic to think an imprisoned adult with only a fifth-grade test score could learn enough to eventually pass the GED and go to college and obtain a degree, it is possible. HFRJ has worked with women who have earned college degrees after imprisonment. One woman who tested at the third grade and who learned to read in prison in her late 20s, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science in spring 2022. 

Curtis Carroll, incarcerated at San Quentin in California for over 20 years, is another example of the power of education for the imprisoned. Carroll learned to read in prison at age 20. He became a stock market expert motivated to help others attain financial literacy. He believes the robbery he committed would have been avoided if he and his family were not financially destitute. He wants to make amends for his crime, and he finds inspiration from others: “When I look at how Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have made these pledges to give 90% of their wealth away, I thought what better way than to go back and help the things I’ve destroyed.” Curtis Carroll (aka Wall Street), see his TED Talk.

a. Financial incentives provided for women to earn GEDs, move up grade levels, and also to pay tutors. Research shows financial incentives work to promote education. Studying math, English, etc., can be especially challenging and highly frustrating for adults with poor childhood educational experiences. The cost savings in decreasing repeat crime by educating imprisoned people is significant and justifies the financial incentives. The WCCC tutors also apply cooperative learning methodology to teach their peers as they were taught in their tutor training. After the first cohort began working, about 8 weeks into the initial stages of the pilot, the tutors asked that instead of individually receiving a financial incentive ($50) for each woman that passes the GED, instead, the whole group of tutors receive equal portions of the incentive ($10 each if 5 tutors, etc.). The program designers were also preparing to split the incentive in that manner, but the tutors requested it first. The reason both the tutors and program managers wanted to make the incentives a group reward, rather than individual, was to encourage more cooperation and discourage competition amongst the tutors, which is exactly what the tutors said when they suggested the program change.

b. Tutor Training Completion Certification was initially issued from McKinley Community School for Adults, a state of Hawai‘i school that provides adult education, but as the program progressed, Windward Community College instead began issuing completion certificates for the women who pass the tutor training program. This certification can help the women after release from prison to obtain tutoring and other jobs in education. The first group of women who completed the tutor training program received their certificates of completion from First Lady Dawn Ige and Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna on October 19, 2021 during a ceremony at WCCC. Governor David Ige, Hawai‘i Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, First Lady Dawn Ige, and state Representative Linda Ichiyama attended a second graduation for women who passed the GED. As of October 31, 2022, 20 women total have received GEDs in the program. Due to COVID, construction and inadequate internet at the prison, significant delays in testing women ready to take the GED have occurred. Since the fall of 2022, there the department of public safety (PSD) has instituted a more “teacher focused” approach (e.g., instead of the “student focused approach” and cooperative learning methodology that HFRJ follows that allowed the women to decide when they are ready to test for the GED, PSD is requiring “practice GED” tests first. As of August 2023, only one or two other women have passed the GED in almost 12 months.

2.  Maintain Windward Community College (WCC) at WCCC & encouraging more higher education institutions to provide classes at WCCC. WCC is part of the University of Hawai‘i. WCC obtained a grant to provide a five-year college program for women incarcerated at Hawai‘i’s women’s prison that ended in 2022. WCC provides college classes at the prison each semester along with college counseling and guidance on what courses are needed for specific degrees and financial aid. WCC’s classes are for first or second-year college students. This project includes keeping WCC’s college program at WCCC sustainable and providing classes there. Funds were also sought to pay for work-study positions for women in WCCC who are taking college classes when they go on work furlough or are released from prison. During the Fall semester of 2022 one woman had a half-time (20 hours per week) work-study job at WCC. Other higher education institutions (Chaminade University of Honolulu and Hawai‘i Pacific University) are also being encouraged to provide and to partner with WCC at WCCC. 

3.  College correspondence courses for imprisoned women who exhaust WCC courses.
These paper and pen courses are for women who complete all the courses that WCC provides or who cannot take the WCC courses (they work or are in isolation and cannot take classes). HFRJ began by initially purchasing 20 individual correspondence courses from Adams State University for incarcerated women in the program to stay on the path of earning degrees. Most imprisoned people in Hawai‘i are not permitted to take online college courses (during the pandemic online classes were provided for class group, but not for individuals). HFRJ explored with UH, which it affiliated with in 2019, and with WCC about the possibility of UH developing correspondence courses for imprisoned women. WCC provided two correspondence courses in the spring and one in the summer of 2022. After the initially buying the 20 courses, a more rigorous selection process for purchasing correspondence courses has been applied, because many of the 20 women did not complete the courses.  But some succeeded, and one woman from the first cohort of tutors took the legal assistance courses from Adams, passed them, and is currently working for a law firm as a para legal. Another woman in WCCC, sentenced to prison for over 20 years, is working on obtaining a bachelors degree from Adams.

4.  Reentry support for transitioning WCCC college students into college after release. Support at the reentry and transition phase for the incarcerated is vital for decreasing repeat crime (Petersilia, 2011). The fourth part of the project assists in transitioning imprisoned students to continue the educational momentum that began in prison and to obtain degrees after release. A non-incorporated group (Pros & Ex-Cons) was funded $120,000 to develop a higher education program for formerly imprisoned women. The funds needed to be administered by a non-profit, which the group was not, so HFRJ offered to be its fiscal intermediary and receive the funds for it. The donation helped HFRJ fund a graduate assistant position at UH. The student is assisting with the program. To begin education in prison and maintain the continuity after release is necessary for successful completion of academic programs. This project will help women in WCCC who are taking college and continuing education courses to transition into school after their release. These women will be provided a restorative reentry planning circle (aka: Huikahi Circle). This reentry planning process benefits children of incarcerated parents, other family members and reduces repeat crime. The circle process provides an opportunity for individual incarcerated people to make amends, goals, and plans. Reentry planning is necessary for those transitioning from prison back into the community (Taxman, 2004). The reentry circles have been replicated in other states and countries, and by the US federal court in Honolulu. In addition to goals, the process focuses on an individual’s strengths and how they can repair damaged relationships. In No Visible Bruises, Snyder describes how a restorative approach can address DV. An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to restorative justice. A recently published paper also describes how a reduction in recidivism for the people who receive huikahi circles can contribute to mass incarceration, which Hawai‘i suffers from.

Conclusion & Evaluation. Education can help empower individual incarcerated women. Can education also work to increase a woman’s personal agency and prevent DV relationships? This pilot project will test these ideas to contribute to the development of a model correctional education program. Throughout the duration of the project HFRJ, with WCCC’s assistance, is collecting data. Independent evaluator Janet Davidson, PhD., criminology professor and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Chaminade University of Honolulu, is preparing the evaluation design. She will eventually measure any differences in recidivism and decreased DV for the women who participated in the program. A positive result of this program has been the gathering of a group of non-partisan women leaders in Hawai‘i to form the Women’s Prison Project. They bring vast experience in advocacy and fundraising and help in securing legislative proposals. This group was instrumental in assisting HFRJ to obtain the funding necessary to continue this pilot for three years (funding for the first year 2022-2023) was delayed for one year, but HFRJ was able to obtain a donation to maintain the program until the state funds were secured.




[1] https://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2424&context=aerchttps://www.hanoverresearch.com/media/Tuition-and-Financial-Aid-Incentives-for-Improving-Graduation-Rates.pdf

[2] https://www.rand.org/well-being/justice-policy/portfolios/correctional-education/policy-impact.html