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Pa. Banking on Program Providing Former Inmates with Financial Literacy

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By Sarah Hoover

Pennsylvania has a new idea to help lower recidivism rates.

Two state agencies have launched a pilot program that teaches financial literacy to inmates at state prisons.

The phrase “follow the money” has taken on new meaning for prisoners who take the course on credit and banking basics.

The class, which began last fall, is a collaboration between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Banking and Securities.

State Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel and state Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann co-authored a paper that argued financial acumen is a tool inmates need to be successful citizens — in addition to a high school diploma, job training and employment.

Program coordinator Becky MacDicken has racked up 18,000 miles traveling across the state since October 2017 as she’s taught more than 4,300 inmates. She has made more than 100 presentations at all 25 state facilities and one at Allenwood Federal Correctional Center in Union County.

The length of the class varies by institution, but runs approximately 45 to 90 minutes and covers how to monitor credit and how to use a bank or credit union.

Most inmates have never had a bank account, relying only on cash, said MacDicken, an outreach specialist at the state Department of Banking Securities.

“A lot of these folks have been locked up for a while and aren’t used to dealing with money. A lot of things have changed, even in the banking system,” she said. “We’ve gone to ATMs and credit and debit cards, which we understand, but they may have never seen. But it is important for them to understand money plays a role in everything they do.”

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