Media FAQ Statistics

Education for Prisoners is Proven to Reduce Recidivism

Justice-related issues have dominated the headlines in 2015 and are not likely to subside. From gun violence and #BlackLivesMatter to President Barack Obama’s plan to resume Pell Grant Funding, the flaws in America’s law enforcement, justice, and prison systems are in the news. Whether you’re writing an article about prison overcrowding, privatization, the school-to-prison pipeline, or inmate health care, Christopher Zoukis offers the rare perspective of an incarcerated American devoted to shedding light on an often-ignored segment of society.

Useful Quick Facts


  • More than 600,000 prisoners were released from U.S. prisons in 2012.
  • Up to 80% of released prisoners will return to jail within 3-5 years.
  • Of rearrested prisoners, nearly 60% are returned to police custody by the end of the first year after their release.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

Education for Prisoners Proven to Reduce Recidivism

  • Hundreds of studies over the last two decades document that prison education, particularly post-secondary education, is proven to reduce recidivism.
  • There is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The more education received, the less likely an individual will be rearrested or re-imprisoned.
  • Inmates who completed some high school courses had a reduced recidivism rate of about 55%.
  • Inmates with vocational training show even lower recidivism rates, at about 20%.
  • Those with an Associate’s Degree: 14%.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: only 5.6% recidivism.
  • Master’s Degree: 0% recidivism.

Sources: Emory University’s Department of Economics, Open Society Institute, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the DePaul Journal for Social Justice

Prisoner Education Ultimately Improves the Economy and Reduces Debt

  • American taxpayers pay about $70 billion each year to run the state and federal prison system. That’s about $32,000 per prisoner per year. This is mostly spent on new facilities, operating and maintaining prisons, providing food and health care for prisoners, and administrative costs.
  • In comparison, educating one student costs about $11,000 per year. So for every $5,000 invested in prison education, there’s $20,000 in savings or a 400% return on investment.
  • Providing post-secondary education to only 10-30% of the prison population can save $60 billion in taxpayer dollars each year.

Sources: Center for Economic and Policy Research and Washington State Institute of Public Policy

Cost of Education in Prison

  • It costs about $1,400 per year to educate one prisoner, compared to $32,000 to house a prisoner per year.
  • Prison education has saved $95 million per year in the state of Texas alone.
  • For every dollar spent on correctional education, the state would save $12.
  • Beyond saving $32 billion in prison construction and operating costs, upon release, educated prisoners would be more equipped to find employment, becoming taxpayers and consumers who would bolster the national economy.

Sources: Open Society Institute and Washington State Institute for Public Policy

Families of Prisoners

  • One in every 50 children in America has a parent in prison.
  • About half of these parents were the primary income earners for their children before going to prison, resulting in more single-parent households, damaged family ties, and exacerbating chronic childhood poverty.
  • American prisons held almost 740,000 fathers and more than 65,000 mothers in 2007.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics