Legal Corner: Your Right to Education

by Allegra Funsten, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children legal intern
Article 5 of the California Constitution clearly affirms the duty of the State to provide free, publiclyfunded elementary and secondary schools. In 1992,
the State Supreme Court wrote that California ?has assumed specific responsibility for a statewide public education system open on equal terms to all,? and must ensure education equality.
California statutes mandate education for people in state prisons. The CDCR Secretary must appoint a Superintendent of Education to administer prison
education programs and must create and implement a system of incentives to increase participation in and completion of academic and vocational programs.
The 1989 Prisoner Literacy Act states the intent of Legislature to increase the percentage of prisoners who are literate because illiteracy is correlated with
recidivism. This law mandates literacy programs designed to insure that prisoners achieve a 9th grade reading level by the time they parole. The CaliforniaPenal Code also defines funding prison education at a specified rate per student per year.
Title 15, Article 3, section 3040 also affirms that CDCR will offer an education program when it states that prisoners may be assigned to ?work, education,
or other programs, or to a combination.? The California Education Code acknowledges the State?s responsibility to provide ?equal rights and opportunities in the educational facilities of the state.? Both federal and state courts have ruled that individuals do not lose their right to equal protection
when incarcerated. In 1970, 1972 and 1979 California Supreme and Appellate Courts ruled that budget concerns may not be used to exclude women from equal protection of the laws or restrict fundamental rights. Courts in other states have also ruled that disparate educational or vocational programs for prisoners based solely on gender violate equal protection.
The 2007 Youth Bill of Rights guarantees people in juvenile facilities an equal education. This law also insures that young people will continue to receive
educational services and vocational training even while on disciplinary or medical status. These services must be: comparable to education outside of
prison, age appropriate, and must include GED and high school graduation plans.
CDCR has a legal duty to provide educational and/or vocational classes and cannot use budget cuts as an excuse to deny education to prisoners. It?s the
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