Each year, there are a number of incarcerated adults who transition from the correctional system in the United States, returning to their families and communities. While many are able to successfully reintegrate into their lives before entering prison or jail, there are a number of people who commit new crimes and are reincarcerated. For marginalized populations, this is a particularly prevalent issue.
There are a number of reasons why this might happen, and it is dependent on the individual, their particular living situation, and the communities they’re part of. Many struggle to maintain employment and stable living situations after incarceration, as many employers and landlords require criminal background checks. Those who don’t have a support system in place are far more likely to recidivate.
Research shows, however, that a lack of education and skills are key reasons that we see such a high rate of recidivism in the United States. This is part of the reason why correctional education programs are starting to take foot in the U.S.
“Prison inmates who receive general education and vocational training are significantly less likely to return to prison after release and are more likely to find employment than peers who do not receive such opportunities,” notes a RAND Corporation report.
The report’s findings, which come from the largest analysis of correctional educational studies, suggest that prison education programs are not only cost effective, but ultimately reduce recidivism rates by a significant amount. According to the RAND report, for every dollar spent on prison education, American taxpayers save four dollars during the first three years after release as education reduces recidivism rates by a significant margin. Providing education costs between $1400-1744 per inmate, while recidivism costs $8700-9700 per individual.
It’s not hard to see why this might be true.
“We found strong evidence that correctional education plays a role in reducing recidivism,” argues Lois Davis, who was the report’s lead researcher. “Our findings are clear that providing inmates education programs and vocational training helps keep them from returning to prison and improves their future job prospects.”
In fact, those who are given access to education while incarcerated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison than those who are not given this opportunity. Employment post incarceration was seen to have increased by up to 28 percent.
While it’s clear that there are significant advantages to providing educational access, what is yet to be determined are the most effective ways to deliver this continuing education.
There are a handful of institutions working to bring college, vocational, and professional training to those behind bars, and many of these programs have seen various degrees of success.
San Quentin State Prison is one such institution that has developed a promising educational program. Though this prison has a sordid national reputation, many inmates choose to transfer to San Quentin to take advantage of their university, which boasts volunteer professors from some of California’s premier colleges. Part of the Prison University Project (PUP), San Quentin is the only onsite degree-granting program in the penal system in California. Today, there’s a waiting list to enroll in classes.
This particular program uses no federal or state money. Instead, PUP is funded by private donations and donated time from professors representing the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford; San Francisco and other institutions in the area.
“The better we do in here, the better we are when we exit,” Jerome Boone, an inmate who has received training through the PUP program told NPR. “If we come in here and just stay the people we are when we come in, you know, without any growth or insight or any opportunity to better ourselves, we’re gonna get out the same person.”
There are other solutions that other prisons across the states have used.
Over the past few years, more than 15 correctional facilities in Louisiana have begun making the most of the advantages of online learning, offering GED courses and college credits at no additional cost to the state or to the student.
It’s an endeavor that has proved to be fruitful for inmates.
“I brought in a lot of education programs during my time,” Kim Barnett, who until recently was the director of correction education in Louisiana, continued. “Some worked some didn’t.”
This one, she admits was a huge success. “It costs the state nothing, costs the facility nothing,” Barnette continued.
The criminal justice system has long been in need of significant reform, both as a means of better rehabilitating individuals to prevent them from returning to the system and to help save taxpayer dollars. Though not the only solution, education is one pathway to ensuring that individuals are able to overcome their past decisions and contribute positively to their communities.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.