How Prison Education Reduces Crime

by Blake O'Connor about a year ago in incarceration

Changing the correctional services system is ethically and logically important. Learn here how prison education reduces crime.

How Prison Education Reduces Crime

The United States has many problems. Interesting research done by the Rand Corporation illuminates one way to improve a broken system. The main take away is that prison education reduces recidivism and crime. Let's learn more about the prison industrial system and how prison education reduces crime.

Prison Population

The United States currently incarcerates more people than the residing population of Philadelphia, with 2.2 million people behind bars. Despite the incarceration rate being at a two-decade low, it is still the largest in the world with the highest count and proportional rate. The total numbers surpass fellow industrious world powers such as China, Russia, and Brazil, and its proportional rate per 100,000 citizens surpasses ethically-principled countries such as El Salvador, Turkmenistan, and Cuba. Those confined behind bars should not be the extent of these investigations and scrutinies though; there exists another 800,000 on parole and 3.7 million people on probation. Of the approximately 6.5 million people under the supervision of correctional ecosystems, many are repeat offenders. The high rates of recidivism suggests that there is a fundamental problem with rehabilitation of offenders back into society, and if you've read these books about American prison systems, you're probably already thinking about the need for reform. The United States must do some self reflection about its values when its prison population overshadows its fifth most populated city. The argument for reducing the prison population has both ethical and practical legitimacy. One method backed by recent studies, providing promising results and demanding action, to reduce rates of recidivism is the availability of education during incarceration for inmates destined to be freed to the world.

Solving the Root of the Problem

A California Prison

Many correctional facilities are experiencing overcrowding petitions for new and larger jails and prisons. When thoroughly considered though, this is an inefficient use of resources. Instead of fixing a problem at its root cause, correctional administrators are dealing with the symptoms of a broken model. If the purpose of jail and prisons is to rehabilitate, the institution of correction in its current state is deeply flawed. Using education during incarceration to reform correctional services system has ethical and logical justification. The United States touts values such as equality of opportunity, and the same should be applied to the formerly incarcerated. Education can ensure that people, post-release, have the opportunity to reinvent themselves and be productive citizens. Education is also logically appealing because it helps to lower rates of recidivism, rates of crime, and saves money for taxpayers in the long run.

Fixing a Broken Model

The paradigm of correctional services in the United States has long focused on the punishment of perpetrators and what to do once the crime has already been committed. Recent research argues that recidivism rates in the United States are at about 50 percent. The takeaway from this statistic is alarming, those that go to prison will likely stay within the criminal justice system. Thusly, one way to lower the rates of incarceration are to prevent high rates of recidivism. Research demonstrates that if recidivism rates were to significantly drop, there would approximately be a 50 percent decline in crime.

Education to Reduce Recidivism

Education is a second opportunity for many people, especially in the case of those stuck in the cyclical nature of the correctional services ecosystem, who are statistically an undereducated population. Without a fundamental building block of life, inmates will fail to acquire job placement post release due to the social stigma of a criminal record, as well as their lack of basic education. Various prisons throughout the United States have, recently, tried academic educational for inmates. This methodology includes access to college-level credits, advice on how to obtain a college degree post release, financial aid, basic and necessary education, and administering vocational job training. Cultivating skills while incarcerated is essential for being competitive in a labor market post release. If the incarcerated are given the resources to enter back into society with the skills to find a job, they will be less likely to resort to lives of crime.

Education is key.

Research from the Rand Corporation argues that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivism than those who did not. A drop in the rate of recidivism by around 13 percent is promising for future studies and experimentation. If the goal of correctional services is rehabilitate people back into society, education is proving crucial to reduce the number of people who return to prison. While the investment for education may seem expensive, it will actually save money for the government in the long run. For every dollar spent on education, taxpayers are estimated to save four to five dollars that would have been spent on incarceration. Saving money on incarceration can help to increase spending on more important ventures like children's education, and giving tools to previously incarcerated individuals will help them be more competitive in the labor market.

Difficulties and Triumphs

Graduates from the Cornell Prison Education Program

State and Federal governments play a crucial role in funding educational programs for incarcerated individuals. Logistics of coordinating large educational programs with sufficient an reliable technology are difficult to fund and plan. Currently, only 14 percent of students in prison are allowed restricted Internet access, and the majority of ways prisoners use the internet have nothing to do with completing their homework. Other challenges include making sure the education is worthwhile, that credits and skills that can be transferred to universities or job placement agencies. Examples of successful programs include a program by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarding more than seven million dollars to colleges—including Cornell University and New York University—to offer classes in prison. Another example is at San Quentin State Prison, where a non-profit provides incarcerated individuals with coding experience.

Concluding Thoughts

Providing opportunities for postsecondary and vocational education will not fix all the problems of the correctional ecosystem. Despite that fact, there is a proven link between education and reducing recidivism for federal and state prisons, proving prison education reduces crime after a sentence is completed. Using this tool of social policy will not only help to save taxpayers money, but also give previously incarcerated individuals a better chance of harmoniously meshing back into society once released.

How does it work?
Read next: Eliminating Bail
Blake O'Connor


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