By Chloe Della Costa 

U.S. college programs for incarcerated students were largely defunded in the ’90s. At the time, this was seemingly great news for “tough on crime” advocates, but this year, a new debate has erupted out of New York state. In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed an initiative to both educate New York’s prison population and save taxpayers money. It costs $60,000 per year to house an inmate in prison, and it costs an estimated $5,000 per year to provide higher education. “Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back,” explained Cuomo. With the country’s high rates of recidivism, solutions that reduce that rate are the best method for reducing overall costs.

The common argument against prison education is that while law-abiding college students are struggling, taxpayers don’t see the fairness in paying to educate criminals. However, prison experts argue that public-funded prison education programs actually stand to save taxpayers money. Gerald Gaes, who served as an expert on college programs for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the 1990s, says the key is reducing the number of inmates who break the law and wind up back in expensive prison cells.

A 2013 joint study by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice also found that prisoners who participated in education programs, such as GED education, college courses, and other types of training, were less likely to return to prison after their release. The study, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education,” was the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, and the findings indicate that prison education programs are cost effective. According to the research, a $1 investment in prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an inmate’s release.

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About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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