Prison Education Reduces Recidivism

These resource papers are excerpted from the book College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons:

The prison population in the US is at 2.3 million. Since 1970,  the number of people incarcerated has grown almost tenfold. Our nation incarcerates far more people per capita than any other country in the world.

The financial burden this creates for state and national budgets is unwelcome and unacceptable.

  • Over half of these prisoners are in on drug charges. Most of these individuals are serving time for nonviolent crimes.
  • An additional 10% are imprisoned over immigration violations.
  • In total, over 70% of America’s prisoners are nonviolent offenders.

No matter what your view on crime is, we can all agree that prisoners endure daily horrors. Yet the recidivism rate is 70% to 85%.  Why in the world would people who have served their time risk returning to prison?

The reason is simple. Most prisoners are released with job skills and educational levels that are so low they can only qualify for poverty-level incomes. Faced with the very real need to earn money but the harsh reality of few jobs, many turn back to crime to survive.

The single solution that will decrease crime levels, relieve the financial strain on state and federal budgets, and enhance our communities today and in the future is education in prison.

This summer, President Barack Obama’s administration announced a 3- to 5-year test project to see if college classes help reduce prison recidivism by offering financial aid under the Pell Grants program.

Our research has shown recidivism rates are inversely proportional to a released prisoner’s level of education. A study by Emory University found that:

  • Ex-offenders who complete some high school courses have recidivism rates of around 55 percent.
  • Vocational training cut recidivism to approximately 30 percent.
  • An associate degree drops the rate to 13.7 percent.
  • A bachelor’s degree reduces it to 5.6 percent.
  • A master’s degree brings recidivism to 0 percent.

The money that goes toward building and maintaining prisons, operating costs, staff salaries, safety measures, and more drains social programs that can help our nation. Educating the prison population creates better citizens…and frees up more money to help people in need.