Inmates Learn About Personal Finance to Prep for Re-entry

CHESTER, Pa. — There’s a world of difference between having “street cred” and a good credit score, and bridging those worlds for inmates of Pennsylvania‘s Department of Corrections’ SCI Chester prison is Becky MacDicken, an outreach specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities.

Through an interdepartmental partnership, MacDicken teaches leads workshops on personal finance, budgeting, predatory loans and related themes pertinent to those behind bars and beyond.

At SCI Chester jail, soon-to-be-released prisoners are hungry for knowledge — roughly 35 inmates, or half the unit, sits patiently and listens intently during the two-hour session. Some are senior citizens, receive disability or benefits, and own property or other assets in the outside world. Others are in their early 20s and want to start fresh financially and in life. — Erin Arvedlund, Philidelphia Inquirer

Inmates are often unbanked, to use a finance industry term of art. Other terms, however, are more familiar to MacDicken’s students — vocabulary like “fines” and “restitution,” responsibilities for which she helps the inmates budget. Some have never dealt with any form of purchasing power other than cash, which was often kept stashed on their person or under the proverbial mattress. Many inmates have no relationship with creditors or if they do it’s because they, themselves, have become victims of identity theft.

“I’ve given workshops with juvenile lifers who checked their credit, only to find out an uncle had gotten a loan in their name,” said MacDicken in an interview with the Philidelphia Inquirer. She advises inmates and others to regularly check one’s credit with all three credit bureaus.

Those without credit history are advised to acquire a secured or prepaid credit card through a bank and establish a regular payment history to signal to lenders one’s creditworthiness. Some inmates are becoming financially savvy via the 12-module Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Money Smart tutorials, which is “a comprehensive financial education curriculum designed to help low- and moderate-income individuals outside the financial mainstream enhance their financial skills and create positive banking relationships,” according to the FDIC’s site.

Since 2001, the FDIC’s program has reached more thsn 3 million consumers and research indicates that curriculum has a positive influence on how consumers manage their finances. Apparently, the skills acquired through the program and the changes they bring are sustained for months following the training. This bodes well for inmates who have undergone the training and are pursuing new, financially aware lives on the outside.

Daedalus Howell

Daedalus Howell is the associate editor at Emlen Media. He can be reached directly at daedalus@emlenmedia.com.

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