Higher & Continuing Education Program for Imprisoned Women in Hawai‘i: Three Year Pilot Program

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

Program Background

Hawai‘i Friends of Restorative Justice (HFRJ) is piloting a three-year program to develop, provide, and to measure the outcomes of providing higher and continued education opportunities for imprisoned women in Hawai‘i. Education contributes to well-being, confidence, and peace. Education helps reduce repeat crime (recidivism) and domestic violence (DV). HFRJ’s partners in this project are: Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC); Windward Community College (WCC); College of Social Sciences University of Hawai‘i (UH) and McKinley Community School for Adults (MCSA). The first year of the program was funded by a Geer Gant provided by Hawai‘i Governor Ige.

Rationale for Higher & Continued Education Program at WCCC

Hawai‘i clearly suffers from school failures, zero tolerance, and the school to prison pipeline. Incarcerated people in our state have an average 5th-6th grade education as reported by the state. Those numbers alone show we suffer from a systemic problem that we cannot punish away with incarceration. Hawai‘i must provide education for all in its public schools and correctional institutions.

Research has shown that higher and continuing education reduces repeat crime, assists women in avoiding domestic violence relationships, and brings back a diverse group of people who are not sufficiently involved in decision making for our legal and social systems. HFRJ knows this is true from its research and firsthand experiences working with women formerly incarcerated at WCCC. Some of the women have gone on to complete graduate school. HFRJ is fortunate that Daphne Ho‘okano, MSW, is on its board of directors (Legal Guide page 4). Daphne developed a substance disorder and was incarcerated at WCCC, and for a short time in Kentucky when Hawai‘i lacked prison space in the state. After a four-year imprisonment, when she was assisted educationally, she earned a masters degree in social work. Daphane has worked as a child protective services investigator for the state of Hawai‘i and now works as a social worker at WCCC for imprisoned women. There are other success stories of a handful of women from WCCC who have also gone on to pursue undergraduate and graduate education.

Education empowers women, and empowered women are more successful in staying out of abusive relationships. “There is an inverse relationship between education and domestic violence. Lower education levels correlate with more likely domestic violence” (Huecker & Smock, 2019).

Domestic and intimate violence against women (DV used for both here) harms many all over the world including Hawai‘i. While DV has been a consistent problem for centuries, research shows it is increasing nationally and that it increases during disasters including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Worldwide fifty thousand (50K) women every year are murdered by DV, and in the United States men shoot fifty (50) women to death every month. Every 16 hours a woman is shot to death in the US by an abusive partner. In addition to the 50 who are shot monthly, more women are killed by other means, e.g., strangled, beaten, etc.

HFRJ’s work at WCCC for 15 years confirms the research that most incarcerated women have been affected by DV either as a person who has been harmed or as a person who has harmed others. The “victim-offender overlap” is a well a known phenomenon in criminology that we have studied.

HFRJ has made DV a priority to address with public health learning methodology. Rachel Louise Snyder’s work described in No Visible Bruises influenced this project. HFRJ agrees with Snyder that we cannot simply punish people who harm others and expect them to become kind and non-violent.

Snyder, a professor at American University in Washington DC studied DV for ten years. She found that women all over the world in DV relationships share one commonality: they each suffer from a lack of “agency in their own lives” (p.5). Agency is an individual’s ability to understand that she has choices to direct her life. Marginalized women, especially those incarcerated, need opportunities to increase their personal agency, which education can achieve.

Education increases personal agency, and agency decreases chances of DV as HFRJ’s director Lorenn Walker knows from her youthful experiences. She had learning challenges and was not literate until she was 9 or 10. She lived on her own as a young teenager, dropped out of school at age 15, and from ages 16 through 21 she was involved with an older man in a relationship for survival purposes. She became educated as a Montessori teacher by age 19 and obtained a full-time job teaching preschool at age 20. Shortly after her 21st birthday she was earning enough to support herself and young child. Her personal agency increased, and she safely left the unhealthy relationship. She became a lawyer at age 31, and later earned a public health masters degree. Today, she works as a social scientist using her legal and public health knowledge in designing and experimenting with innovations to help people learn how to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally.

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

  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. Currently, five imprisoned women at WCCC are working as 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

instructors for backup assistance. The tutors are compensated $3.00 per hour, which is the highest compensation paid to date at WCCC for the imprisoned. Their a $150 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 help anyone 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).

While it may sound overly optimistic to think an imprisoned adult with only a fifth-grade education learning enough to eventually go to college and obtain a degree, it is possible. As mentioned above, HFRJ has worked with women who have earned college degrees after imprisonment. One woman who tested at the third-grade, but learned to read in prison in her late 20s, is on track twenty years later to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in science in the spring 2022. She plans to enter in graduate school in the fall 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, 42, 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 reward 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. Walker herself did not believe she was “college material.” Her “chance encounter” with a therapist who insisted she enroll full-time at Kaua‘i Community College was pivotal. When she attended school the federal government offered educational grants to single parents, which were vital to

her education. HFRJ’s former client too, who only had tested at the third-grade in prison when she learned to read, was offered a financial incentive of thirty-four cents an hour to take GED preparation courses in a prison where she was incarcerated. The cost savings in decreasing repeat crime by educating imprisoned people is significant and justifies the financial incentives. The WCCC first cohort of tutors also applies cooperative learning methodology to teach their peers as they were taught in their tutor training. After the program was in effect about 8 weeks, the tutors asked that instead of individually receiving a financial incentive ($50) for each woman that passes the GED, instead the whole group of five current tutors would receive equal portions of the incentive ($10 each). 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 from McKinley Community School for Adults: McKinley Community School for Adults is a state of Hawai‘i school that provides adult education. MCSA is providing certificates of completion for the tutors who complete the tutoring 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.

  1. Keeping Windward Community College 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 is scheduled to end in 2022. WCC provides two or three college classes at the prison each semester. The 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 are also being sought to pay for work-study positions for women in WCCC who are taking college classes when they go on work furlough. The furlough program allows the women to leave the prison to work. Several incarcerated students will be able to work 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.

  1. College correspondence courses for imprisoned women who exhaust WCC courses
    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 is purchasinf them individual correspondence courses from another university to stay on the path of earning degrees. Correspondence courses will be provided for individual incarcerated women. 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 will work with UH, which it affiliated with in 2019, and with WWC about the possibility of UH developing correspondence courses for imprisoned women. WCC has already committed to providing two correspondence courses in the spring 2022 and one in the summer fo 2022. In the meantime, HFRJ is purchasing courses for individuals from Adams State University in Colorado (ASU), which has a program for imprisoned people.
  2. Transitioning WCCC college students into college after release
    Reentry and transition preparation and support is vital for decreasing repeat crime (Petersilia, 2011). The fourth part of the project assists transitioning imprisoned students to continue the educational momentum that began in prison and to obtain degrees after release. The Cons of Incarceration was funded $120,000 to develop a higher education program for formerly imprisoned women. HFRJ is the fiscal intermediary for the funds. 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. She dedicates an entire chapter to restorative justice.

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. Year one of the program has been funded but we need to obtain funding for years 2 and 3. A positive result of this program has been the gathering of a group of non-partisan women leaders in Hawai‘i. They bring a vast experience in advocacy and fund raising, and savvy in legislative activity. This group hopefully too can help HFRJ obtain the funding necessary to continue this pilot for the next two years.



(Rev. Dec. 27, 2021)

[1] https://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2424&context=aerc; https://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