Prison educational programs are extremely beneficial for inmates in myriad ways, from bolstering their communication skills to making them more hirable.
Down the line, the positive effects education can have on prisoners helps them establish successful lives post-release and stay out of prison, which we sorely need at a time when our prisons are seeing dangerously high recidivism rates.
Our current recidivism problem
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report in 2014 studying the outcomes of 404,638 prisoners up to five years after their release. They found that around two-thirds were arrested within three years and three-quarters were arrested within five.
More recently, a study from the U.S. Sentencing Commission released in 2016 studied outcomes for 25,431 prisoners within eight years of their release. They found that almost half of all prisoners were rearrested within that time frame.
Why we need to do something about recidivism
The most apparent problem with high recidivism rates is the reality that our prison system is failing to rehabilitate inmates and is instead just creating a permanent under-class of the incarcerated. We cannot forget that the criminal justice system does not exist simply to punish, but to rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates into society.
Further, too many inmates coming back through the system ends up overcrowding prisons and overwhelming correctional staffs, which significantly harms inmate care, including healthcare, mental health treatment and overall safety. But ultimately, recidivism isn’t just a problem for inmates; it’s a problem for everyone; at least, everyone who pays taxes.
A 2012 Vera Institute Study revealed that state correctional budgets had nearly quadrupled over the past two decades. Today, it costs state budgets an average of $30,000 to keep one prisoner locked up for one year. These costs come right out of taxpayer money.
How education ultimately reduces recidivism
First off, education can improve an inmate’s experience and behavior in prison dramatically.
According to a 2009 study by the Correctional Association of New York, educational courses can be used as incentives for good behavior, which work to improve the general atmosphere in a given prison and decrease the tension and violence between inmates and guards. The report stated that courses produce “mature, well-spoken leadership who have a calming influence on other inmates and on corrections officers.”
In this way, education creates an environment in which inmates are encouraged to better themselves, in terms of their attitude, behavior and communication skills. This is crucial to prison populations, as we know that inmates are much less likely to have an educational background than the general population due to fewer opportunities and the socioeconomic inequality that fosters incarceration.
As inmates are bolstering their communication skills and enjoying opportunities for self-development, they are also making themselves more marketable for employment after release. Finding employment is one of the top factors in not ending up back in prison.
So, when we consider all of these factors, it makes sense that inmates who participate in correctional education have a 43 percent less likely chance of returning to prison, according to a RAND Corporation study from 2013.
Recidivism is a huge problem in our criminal justice system; all around the country, it is either being made a priority for reform or needs to be made one.
We can see clearly that educational programs in prisons pave the way for the future success of inmates and lead to decreases in recidivism. So, if we’re making recidivism a priority, we cannot make any real progress without making education a priority as well.
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