Prison Education Programs Reduce Risk of Reoffending
The issue of prison education has always been a contentious one from the financial aspect to the moral one. Prison funding tends to be heavily scrutinized and subject to public outcry as many believe prisoners should not be given certain opportunities, items, etc. which connects to the moral issue of should the prison system be built around rehabilitation or should it be punitive?
Role of Legislation
One of the best examples of these competing approaches was the Kids Before Cons Act that was proposed in 2015 to push against the Department of Education’s pilot program of extending the Pell Grant to prisoners after a two-decade ban. The Education Secretary Arne Duncan during this time stated:
“America is a nation of second chances. Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are — it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers.”
Effects on Recidivism and Economic Benefits
First, let’s take a look at the general stats on recidivism. John H. Esperian from the Correctional Education Association released a report titled The Effect of Prison Education Programs on Recidivism and showcases the general trend of recidivism is between 50-70% within three years of prisoners being released. When he took a look at how prison education programs affected this the results were staggering:
- A study was done on prison education programs in Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio that led to 29% reduced re-incarceration
- 6.71% recidivism compared to 26% of women who did not participate in education programs in a Colorado
- A study was done on prison education programs in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Virginia resulted in recidivism going from 49% to 20%
Esperian’s research is supported across the board from the studies done by other organizations such as the 2013 RAND Corporation’s findings of a 43% reduction in recidivism. Research done as far back as the 1980’s, such as William L. Hiser of Portland State University report The Effects of Correctional Education on Recidivism which compiled research from the 1950s and 1960s, still showed a 20% reduction in recidivism rates.
Furthermore, in the RAND Corporation study, which was funded by the U.S Justice Department, their meta-analysis on programs that provide education to incarcerated adults also found that for every dollar invested in these programs result in the saving of $4 to $5 on future incarceration costs.
The question isn’t can prison education programs reduce reoffending but why don’t we implement more of these programs? The answer lies in the fundamental approach to the prison system. Once a change in the philosophy shifts from punitive to rehabilitative only then may we see a push for more prison education programs that not only help the prisoners but society as a whole.