Inmates at an Alabama correctional centre are developing, crowdfunding and taking other necessary steps to launch their own radio about health issues in the prison system.
The program at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County, is facilitated by Connie Kohler, professor emeritus at the University of Alabama (UAB) at Birmingham. She was approached by prisoners to help create the show after she presented a lecture about the concept of education through entertainment.
Kohler had previously been honoured for her work on the documentary The Prison's Professors, which is part of the UAB-Donaldson Lecture Series. The series, which generally takes place twice per month by a variety of UAB staff on topics of their choosing, also led to the creation of a book discussion group and an acting workshop at the maximum security facility.
The radio soap opera Corrections is fictional and scripted, but it is based on very real and serious issues. The series will include eight 15-minute episodes, and is currently in the process of being recorded, after reaching an initial crowd-funding goal of $4,000.
The next phase will see inmates and their supporters seeking financing for post-production work, including credits and sound effects.
The show offers a huge opportunity for participating inmates to learn new skills and contribute to an ongoing project that produces tangible results. They are responsible for all aspects of the program - from scriptwriting, acting, recording and editing to conducting focus groups, research, audience development and even logo design.
Along with fostering the development of new skills, Corrections provides a uniquely creative and constructive outlet for its contributors. It also teaches inmates about health and how to better care for themselves - which is especially crucial because many prisoners suffer chronic health conditions that may be exacerbated by incarceration.
This project is important for many reasons: it's the type of creative rehabilitation programs that inmates need, educationally and personally. The program doesn't require a major cash injection, it helps develop new skills for inmates after they are released, and it shares useful information to a wider audience in an entertaining way.
Programs such as these can also help improve behavior within prisons, offering needed creative and productive outlets as well as an incentive to participate in something positive.
Education, and these types of related programs are the best way to reduce recidivism. With thousands of prisoners released every year into our communities, we need to ensure that they have the tools and skills needed to participate as fully as possible in society.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com