ABC Literacy

The L.I.F.E Program

How L.I.F.E Got Started
The L.I.F.E. Program (Learning Is For Everyone) at the New Jersey State Prison was established in 1985 in response to the needs of a growing illiterate inmate population. It is estimated that 75% of the inmates at New Jersey State Prison are illiterate or functionally illiterate reading below a fourth grade level. With prison education programs losing financial support, founder and community volunteer William Burke realized the need for a corps group of community volunteers, educators and inmates to work together towards the common goal of increasing literacy within prisons:
"I recognized the staggering illiteracy rate in the prisons and realized that a lot of these guys carry a stigma about their inability to read. I thought that a one-on-one tutor session with another inmate would give them the confidentiality needed to encourage them to come back to school. I also know there is a lot of talent in the prison population and the men could run this program themselves. All I had to do was ask the inmates and they jumped at the offer."

Now after seventeen years, this unique inmate-run program has successfully improved the literacy skills of 236 men and has allowed them to either acquire a GED certificate, have the ability to read a book to their children or letters from home.