According to a recent report, over two-thirds of prisons in the United States offer some kind of education program. This is a significant increase from just a few years ago, when less than half of prisons had such programs.
So why the sudden change? Well, research has shown that prisoners who participate in education programs are much less likely to reoffend after they’re released. That means that not only is education good for the prisoners themselves, but it’s also good for society
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The Importance of Education in Prisons
Whether you realize it or not, the American prison system is in desperate need of reform. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there were 2.3 million people incarcerated in America as of 2018 – that’s more than any other country in the world. What’s even more alarming is that the recidivism rate – the rate at which prisoners are re-arrested after being released – is staggeringly high. In fact, according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 83% of prisoners will be re-arrested within nine years of their release.
One of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism rates is through education. Studies have shown time and time again that providing prisoners with access to educational opportunities – whether it’s GED programs, college courses, or vocational training – greatly reduces their chances of returning to prison. In fact, one study found that every dollar invested in prisoner education programs saves taxpayers four dollars in incarceration costs down the road.
Despite this evidence, however, educational opportunities for prisoners are woefully lacking. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, only 14% of prisoners have access to any form of postsecondary education while they are incarcerated. And for those who do have access, course offerings are often limited and class sizes are small.
If we want to see real reform in our criminal justice system, we need to invest in prisoner education programs. These programs not only save taxpayers money in the long run, but they also give prisoners the skills they need to lead productive lives once they’re released from prison.
The Benefits of Education Programs in Prisons
Improved Literacy and Numeracy Skills
Research suggests that education programs in prisons can have a positive impact on the literacy and numeracy skills of prisoners. A study of education programs in Australian prisons found that prisoners who participated in the programs had significantly higher literacy scores than those who did not participate. The study also found that the longer a prisoner participated in an education program, the greater the improvement in their literacy scores.
Other research has found similar results for numeracy skills. A study of education programs in UK prisons found that prisoners who participated in the programs had significantly higher numeracy scores than those who did not participate. The study also found that the longer a prisoner participated in an education program, the greater the improvement in their numeracy scores
There is also evidence that education programs can have a positive impact on prisoners’ employment prospects. A study of prisoners in England and Wales found that those who participated in education programs were more likely to be employed after release than those who did not participate. The study also found that prisoners who participated in vocational training were more likely to be employed after release than those who did not participate
Improved Employment Prospects
Education programs in prisons provide prisoners with the skills and qualifications they need to find employment upon release. With an employment rate of over 70%, prisoners who participate in education programs are much more likely than those who do not to find jobs after release. This not only benefits the prisoners themselves, but also their families and society as a whole.
Reseach has shown that for every dollar invested in prison education programs, there is a return of four to seven dollars in terms of reduced re-incarceration rates and increased tax revenue from employment. Inmates who participate in education programs are also less likely to return to criminal activity once they are released.
Reduced Recidivism Rates
It is well-documented that education programs in prisons can lead to a decrease in recidivism rates. A recidivism rate is defined as the percentage of prisoners who are rearrested and re-incarcerated within a three-year period of their release. Studies have shown that for every year an inmate participates in an education program, their recidivism rate decreases by four percent (Bartkowski & Mears, 2001). Inmates who participate in post-secondary education programs while incarcerated have even lower recidivism rates, with some studies finding a decrease of up to 13 percent (Harlow, 2012).
There are a number of reasons why education programs can lead to reduced recidivism rates. Firstly, education can provide inmates with the skills and qualifications they need to find employment upon release from prison. This is especially important given that ex-offenders often face significant barriers to employment, such as discrimination from potential employers (Aos et al., 2001). Secondly, education programs can help inmates develop self-discipline and positive social skills, both of which are important for successful reintegration into society. Finally, education programs can give inmates a sense of hope and purpose, which can motivate them to stay on the right path after they leave prison (Bartkowski & Mears, 2001).
Despite the clear evidence that education programs can reduce recidivism rates, it is estimated that only around 10 percent of prisons in the United States offer any type of educational opportunities to inmates (Harlow, 2012). This is a missed opportunity given that education programs cost relatively little to run and have the potential to bring about significant reductions in crime.
The Challenges of Education Programs in Prisons
Although there are many benefits to providing education programs in prisons, there are also some challenges that must be addressed. First, prisons are designed to be secure facilities and this can make it difficult to provide the same level of education that is available in traditional schools. Secondly, the prison population is often transient, which can make it difficult to provide continuity of education.
Incarcerated individuals often face a host of challenges that can make it difficult to succeed in an educational program. First, there is the challenge of limited resources. Many prisons are underfunded and lack the resources necessary to provide adequate education programming. This can include everything from a lack of qualified teachers to a lack of books and other materials.
In addition, prison education programs often have to compete with other services for funding. This means that they may not be able to offer the same level of programming as non-prison education programs.
Finally, there is the challenge of the prison environment itself. Prisons can be stressful and dangerous places. This can make it difficult for students to focus on their studies.
In many prisons, the education facilities are inadequate. Classrooms may be overcrowded, and there may not be enough resources, such as textbooks, for all the students. In some cases, prisoners have to share textbooks or do their work in the library because there are not enough classroom desks.
Lack of Qualified Teachers
One of the challenges that prison education programs face is the lack of qualified teachers. Many prisons are located in rural areas, which can make it difficult to attract and retain teachers. In addition, prison educators must be certified to teach in the state where the prison is located. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, but not all do. This can make it difficult for teachers who are certified in one state to teach in a prison in another state.
Another challenge that prison education programs face is the high turnover rate of inmates. Inmates are released from prison and return to their communities on a regular basis. This means that educators must constantly be adapting their curriculum to meet the needs of a changing population. In addition, inmates who are released from prison often have difficulty readjusting to life outside of prison and may not be able to continue their education.
Finally, funding for prison education programs is often very limited. Prisons are typically run by state governments, and states are facing budget cuts across the board. This means that prisons often have to choose between providing basic necessities like food and shelter for inmates or investing in educational programs.
The Future of Education Programs in Prisons
It is no secret that our prisons are overcrowded and in need of reform. Education programs have been shown to be an effective way to reduce recidivism rates, and yet many prisons do not offer these programs to their inmates. There are a variety of reasons why this may be the case, but it is clear that something needs to change.
In 2015, the Obama administration announced its support for expanding education opportunities for inmates. This was a major step forward, but unfortunately funding for these programs has been slow to materialize. In the meantime, a number of private organizations have stepped in to fill the gap, but they can only do so much.
It is time for our government to invest in education programs for prisoners. These programs have been proven to work, and they are an essential part of ensuring that our justice system is truly just.