Educated Inmates Have Higher Employment Rates and Wages

Former inmates face many obstacles in finding a job, but inmates who take educational programs have higher employment rates and better wages. Inmates are almost six times more likely to be unemployed than the general population before even going to prison. It can be worse after prison.

Employment means prisoners are less likely to be re-incarcerated. Considering employment rates increase with education, correctional education should be a priority.

Employment is Key to Reducing Recidivism and Increasing Wages

Finding and keeping a job is a constant challenge for ex-convicts.

Exploring ways to help increase employment rates should be a crucial goal of the correctional system.

Released offenders face many obstacles when looking for jobs, including:

  • Lack of adequate education.
  • Legal prohibitions on employment. (For example, for government jobs or those requiring professional licensing).
  • Inadequate soft skills, such as communication and punctuality.
  • Lack of vocational skills or work experience.
  • Substance abuse or mental health problems.
  • Loss of a social network to help them find jobs.

Additionally, employers in many states can be held responsible for crimes committed by their employees, making some reluctant to employ ex-convicts. Only 40% of employers surveyed said they would even consider offering a job to someone with a criminal record (Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2003).

Earning a GED is the First Priority

The Bureau of Justice Statistics states 75% of state prisoners, 59% of federal inmates, and 69% in local jails didn’t complete high school (Harlow, 2003). According to the National Education Association, high school dropouts are 72% more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates (McKeon, 2006).

No one should leave prison without a high school diploma or GED.

In the 1980s, 317 released Ohio inmates were evaluated. Those who completed a high school diploma or GED in prison were 51% more likely to find employment at the end of their first year out of prison compared to those who obtained neither (Holloway & Moke, 1986).

Vocational and Academic Programs Boost Employment

Once inmates have a high school education, teaching them vocational skills is the next step in equipping them to find employment after prison.

The studies below show how education affects employment:

  • 146 released offenders were followed, and those who had taken vocational training were twice as likely to have a job while on probation (82% versus 42% ) (Luftig, J. T., 1978).
  • Out of 760 offenders, those who received vocational training in prison were 25% more likely to be employed a year after their release (30% employment versus 24% )(Schumacker, Anderson, & Anderson, 1990).

About 10% of inmates who participate in post-secondary education take academic college programs.

  • 318 Ohio inmates who followed a degree program for at least two years had a 168% higher employment rate at the end of their parole compared to those without the education (Batiuk, Moke, & Roundtree, 1997).

Meta-analysis is a statistical technique used to estimate the average effect of several studies.

  • A meta-analysis of eight studies found that those who took vocational training were 34% more likely to be employed after their release (Wilson, Gallagher, & MacKenzie, 2000).
  • RAND Corporation’s 2013 meta-analysis revealed those who participated in vocational training were 28% more likely to find work after prison. Offenders who took academic education programs were 8% more likely to be employed (Davis, Bozick, Steele, Saunders, & Miles, 2013).

Although the RAND results appear to show that vocational training is more effective than academic courses, the results do not support that conclusion statistically. A study directly comparing the two would be necessary in order to determine if vocational training was more effective than academic programs.

More Education Means More Money

Ex-convicts earn an average of 40% less than non-offenders (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010). It’s worth exploring any intervention that raises an offender’s wages so they don’t turn back to crime.

In a study of around 11,500 Florida inmates, those from ethnic minorities who earned their GED in prison earned about $800 a year more for their first two years out of prison compared to peers without a GED. No wage increase was seen for Caucasian inmates (Tyler & Kling, 2007).

A comprehensive study of prison education followed 3,170 inmates released from prisons in Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio.  There was only a 5% employment increase in Maryland and Minnesota and no increase in Ohio. However, Maryland and Minnesota inmates who took any educational programs earned almost $7,200 a year more than those who took none, a 30% increase (Steurer, Smith, & Tracy, 2001).

A Virginia study of 3,000 released inmates proves persistence and determination often reap the greatest awards. Those who participated in academic or vocational training programs but did not complete them had a 13% higher employment rate than those who took no programs (Hull, Forrester, Brown, Jobe, & McCullen, 2000).  Inmates who completed programs saw a 43% increase in their employment rate.

Like in the study above, inmates who took vocational training were 25% more likely to have a job, but those who took academic courses on top of their vocational training were 63% more likely to be employed (39% employment versus 24%)(Schumacker et al., 1990). The more education an offender receives, the better he or she will do on the outside.

Expand Correctional Education to Reap Significant Rewards

Inmates who receive education in prison are much more likely to find employment once released and will earn higher wages too. Education leads to significantly lower rates of re-incarceration.

In 2012, 637,400 offenders were released from U.S. prisons (Carson & Golinelli, 2013).  Imagine a world in which the vast majority turn their backs on crime and, instead, work, pay taxes, and contribute to society. To make this a reality, correctional education must be given a greater priority.


Batiuk, M. E., Moke, P., & Roundtree, P. W. (1997). Crime and Rehabilitation: Correctional education as an agent of change – a research noteCriminal Justice Quarterly, 14(1), 167-180.

Carson, E. A., & Golinelli, D. (2013). Prisoners in 2012, Trends in admissions and releases, 1991-2012. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC.

Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J., Saunders, J., & Miles, J. N. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional education – A meta-analysis of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. RAND Corporation.

Gellar, A., Garfinkel, I., & Western, B. (2006, August). The effects of incarceration on employment and wages: An analysis of the fragile families survey. Princeton University, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. Working Paper #2006-01-FF.

Hancock, L. (2014, February 22). Texas an unlikely role model for prison reformSan Francisco Gate. Retrieved 9/19/2014.

Harlow, C. W. (2003). Education and correctional populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice. NCJ 195670.

Holloway, J., & Moke, P. (1986, May 14). Post-secondary correctional education: An evaluation of parolee performance. Unpublished manuscript. Wilmington College, Ohio.

Holzer, H. J., Raphael, S., & Stoll, M. A. (2003, May 19). Employment barriers facing ex-offenders. Urban Institute Re-Entry Roundtable, New York University Law School.

Hull, K. A., Forrester, S., Brown, J., Jobe, D., & McCullen, C. (2000, June). Analysis of recidivism rates for participants of the academic/vocational/transitional education programs offered by the Virginia Department of Correctional EducationJournal of Correctional Education, 51(2), 256-261.

Kimmitt, S. (2011, June). The impact of community context on the risk of recidivism among parolees at one-, two-, and three-year follow-ups. Honors Thesis, Ohio State University.

Luftig, J. T. (1978). Vocational education in prison: An alternative to recidivismJournal of Studies in Technical Careers, 1, 31-42.

McKeon, D. (2006). Research talking points on dropout statistics. National Education Association. Retrieved 9/19/2014.

Nieto, M. (2002). Adult parole and probation in California. The California Research Bureau. Retrieved 9/19/2014.

Pew Charitable Trusts (2010). Collateral costs: Incarceration’s effect on economic mobility. The Pew Charitable Trusts, Public Safety Performance Project.

Schumacker, R. E., Anderson, D. B., & Anderson, S. L. (1990). Vocational and academic indicators of parole successJournal of Correctional Education, 41(1), 8-13.

Steurer, S. J., Smith, L. G., & Tracy, A. (2001). Education reduces crime: Three state recidivism study. Correctional Education Association. Lanham, Maryland.

Tyler, J. H., & Kling, J. R. (2007). Prison-based education and re-entry into the mainstream labor market. In Bushway, S., Stall, M., and Weiman, D. (Eds.). Barriers to re-entry: The labor market for released prisoners in post-industrial America. Russel Sage Foundation Press. New York, pp. 227-256.

Wilson, D. B., Gallagher, C. A., & MacKenzie, D. L. (2000). A meta-analysis of corrections-based education, vocation, and work programs for adult offenders. Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency, 37(4), 347-368.