The L.I.F.E Program
How L.I.F.E Got Started
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.