Ambitious inmates who want to lay the groundwork for employment after release might want to consider studying a paralegal course. And they won’t be alone.
They will join Fabian Ruiz – who we profiled October 31 and who now works for a criminal law practice – and hundreds of other current and former prisoners, who have taken The Allentown, Pa.-based Blackstone Career Institute’s Correspondence Paralegal Program for Inmates.
“At any given moment we have more than 1,200 inmates actively involved in our paralegal program,” says Kevin McCloskey, the institute’s president. “Over the years we’ve delivered product into 1,800 correctional facilities.”
Originally founded in 1890 as a law school, the Blackstone Career Institute changed its focus to preparing paralegals in the late 1970s. Its inmate program is designed to be completed the old-fashioned way, using soft covered books and materials shipped directly to the inmates by U.S. mail. All materials needed for the courses are provided, and no computer or Internet access is required.
How it works
The institute sends out a packet to prospective students that includes a checklist with what they will have to go through with their correctional institution in order to take a correspondence course.
Once accepted into the program, students receive a 10-volume set of texts, totaling nearly 2,150 pages. They will also receive a law glossary and law dictionary, as well as texts on legal research and writing, ethics and job search techniques.
Students must pass 31 tests and complete six writing samples, all of which are supplied by Blackstone to be returned in pre-addressed envelopes. They can also submit questions by mail.
Tuition for inmates comes to $767, which can be paid in one payment or 12 monthly payments with no finance charge. Usually someone on the outside pays the tuition, but because Blackstone is an accredited institution, inmates who are veterans can take advantage of the Montgomery G.I. Bill.
After completing the paralegal course, which according to McCloskey takes on average 14 months, the inmates can study up to eight advanced courses. These courses cover personal injury/torts; family law; wills, trusts, and estates; criminal law; civil litigation; business and corporate law; real estate law; and practical bankruptcy law.
McCloskey estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of inmates continue with one or more of the advanced classes, the most popular being, not surprisingly, criminal law. “And who better to work in a criminal law firm?” says McCloskey. “If a criminal attorney can latch onto an ex-offender who has paralegal training, it’s a great combination for them to have on their staff.”
Although convicted felons in most cases cannot become paralegals, they can serve as legal researchers and, thanks to what they’ve learned in the program, they will be more job-ready than most other inmates upon their release.
For more information on Blackstone Career Institute’s program for prisoners visit www.blackstone.edu