Prison Education Pays for Itself

These resource papers are excerpted from the book College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons. Prison education is the least expensive and most effective solution to budgetary issues caused by recidivism.

Compared to the general population, most prisoners come from disadvantaged backgrounds, belong to minority groups, have low skill levels, and held low-paying jobs (or no jobs) before incarceration. Ex-prisoners who are released with little job experience and low literacy levels are poorly qualified for work. They return to crime because they don’t have the necessary education or social skills to function in society or even to survive.

College converts released prisoners into productive, taxpaying citizens. Inmates who take even a few graduate or undergraduate courses usually try to continue their studies after release.

Some have become university professors.  Some run youth services programs or work for major corporations or are ministers. The rest work, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to society.

  • In Texas, prison education has saved $95 million per year.
  • In Florida, a 4% reduction in recidivism over two years saved $65 million.
  • For every $1 Washington State spent on correctional education, it saved $12.
  • Educating prisoners eliminates the need to build and operate additional correctional facilities, which will save $32.1 billion.
  • Productive taxpayers and consumers bolster state and national economies.
  • The families of educated ex-prisoners will no longer need to rely on welfare programs.
  • Every $5,000 invested, the Washington State Institute of Public Policy reports, returns $20,000 by reducing incarceration rates and the use of social services. That’s a 400% return on investment.

Prisoners who participate in educational programs typically earn good-time credits. They leave prison earlier, which reduces prison costs.

Connecting prison education programs to community colleges is one of the most promising avenues. These types of partnerships have proven successful, most notably in North Carolina. More credited vocational and advanced academic programs are needed in prisons nationwide.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reports that most Americans want our criminal justice system to emphasize rehabilitation. Education inside prisons is right for society, right for the economy, and right for people inside and outside prison walls.