Israeli Program to Send Women Ex-convicts to College on Verge of Cancellation

The program educates female ex-cons to do more than just cleaning or working at a cash register, but funding is badly needed.

An ex-convict reading at a hostel for released prisoners.
Chaim Schwartzenberg

A program that has helped around 100 women ex-convicts go to college will end after this academic year unless more funding can be found.

The project, called Catching the Wave, is run by the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, but since its inception in 2009 it has been privately funded. That funding ran out at the end of last year, but the authority has managed to keep the project running for the current academic year.

One ex-convict spent much of her life between the ages of 19 and 33 in prison for drug offenses. Now she’s studying at a college in the north and describes the studies “as a sort of addiction for me.”

“There are times during class when my gaze wanders; I look at the lecturer and the other students in the classroom and I can’t believe I’m part of this,” she said, requesting anonymity.

“I laugh to myself – how am I, who throughout my life only managed to finish prison sentences, about to finish my bachelor’s degree?”

She added: “Studying is as important to me as staying clean of drugs and being rehabilitated. I want to finish my bachelor’s degree and go for a master’s. I’m very strongly into it.”

The program was launched with around 1 million shekels ($256,000) from the Ted Arison Family Foundation in conjunction with the Katzir Fund, which provided scholarships.

“The amount of money needed to keep the project going totals only 480,000 shekels over four years,” said Inbal Mansour, the project’s national coordinator.

The ramifications of the project’s demise go way beyond the education itself.

“When a woman gets out of prison she’s in most cases only able to do minimum-wage jobs like cleaning, housekeeping or working at a supermarket cash register,” said Lilach Ben-Moshe Ga’ash, a clinical criminologist responsible for the rehab authority’s training programs.

“Women who’ve been in the program have been able to integrate into more lucrative fields in the work world and have broadened their employment options, become independent and can support themselves and their families.”

Ben Moshe Ga’ash stressed the effect this education has had on the ex-convicts’ families. “Many of the women are single parents, and when they study it influences the next generation,” she said. “Closing the program will be closing their horizons. It’s saying we can’t let them dream of a better future.”

Attorney Elad Dahan, an aide to the rehab authority’s director, said funding was still being sought.

“Over the past few months the authority has striven to find a funding source for the project, but these efforts have not borne fruit,” he said. “The authority would be happy to go back to operating the project if funding can be found.”

The Social Affairs Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment.