By Christopher Zoukis
Prison education is a controversial subject due to strong emotions on both sides of the issue. But it’s also an issue that has been the subject of a significant amount of published research — all of which supports the education of prisoners. According to the research, prison education has a marked effect on reducing recidivism, the likelihood of a released inmate returning to crime, and, eventually, prison. Enhanced access to prison education has proven to benefit society through reduced corrections costs, lowered crime and victimization, and improved community and public safety.
Almost all of the public discussion concerning prison education focuses on the substantial reductions in recidivism that educational programming in prisons produces. While certainly a vital component of the public dialogue on the issue, it causes lesser, yet relevant, components to fall by the wayside. For example, should prisoners that are unlikely to be released from custody due to a life sentence or death penalty sentence also have access to educational opportunities? Should state or federal funding be used for these prisoners knowing that they may never be able to use this education outside of prison? Should such programming be barred from them since they will never have a chance to recidivate, and, thus, this vastly important social benefit of prison education becomes a non-issue?
They should, and for several reasons.
Reductions in recidivism dominates the public’s dialogue on prison education. It is the correctional education’s primary lobbying and belief conversion point. But outside of reductions in recidivism, prison education fulfills additional goals, and, thus, providing education to inmates with life sentences and death sentences has merit for a number of reasons:
- · Reductions in Prisoner Violence
Research in this area has proven that prison education reduces instances of prison misconduct and violence — a serious prison culture and administration problem that costs correctional authorities, and through them American taxpayers, many millions of dollars every year on enhanced security components and inmate misconduct adjudication. Inmates need a healthy outlet for their time. Allowing them to continue their education on the inside gives them a tremendously productive and pro-social activity. This can transform minds and impact all who pass through the prison system, not solely those who engage in educational programming. Such achievements also lower the risk of staff and inmate injuries due to violence and stress related illnesses.