Financial Literacy necessary for released offenders

What are you doing at age 36? Or, what do you plan to do by age 36? Buy a house perhaps? Be climbing the corporate ladder in your career? Starting a family or getting your startup off the ground? Most people look forward to doing those things in their 30s, but for more than 33,000 Americans, this is a pipe dream.

As of August 2018, using available statistics, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that out of the 18-65 year-olds incarcerated in federal prisons, more than 33,000 of them are 36 – the highest age range represented.

There is a big push for prison education, and that means more and more incarcerated persons are getting access to a GED and college education. However, to round out their skills, financial literacy is essential. At 36, the non-incarnated population is typically juggling a household budget and a growing salary. When one’s formal and informal education is stunted by a stay in prison, care must be taken to include “soft” skills like financial literacy to prisoners before they are released, if the offender is expected to be rehabilitated and on par with his or her peers.

“We have found that inmates too often do not have fundamental knowledge, skills or experience to face the complex financial realities of life. Upon re-entry into society, too often they repeat poor financial decisions that helped put them on the path to incarceration,” said John Wetzel, Pennsylvania secretary of corrections and Robin L. Wiessmann, Pennsylvania secretary of banking and securities.

To combat this problem, Corrections opened a dialogue in 2016 with the Pennsylvania State Agency Financial Exchange (PA $AFE).

PA $AFE is a group of 20+ state agencies working together to provide financial education for consumers. Corrections began working with the organization to provide financial education as part of a re-entry strategy.

Although the program is in its early stages, both inmates and Corrections report positive feedback so far.

The program will be measured against four attainable outcomes:

  • to see if those that received financial education in prison have a lower recidivism rate against those that did not
  • to see if past-offenders that are back in society and had financial literacy training are more successfully employed than those that did not
  • to see if the released offenders are more motivated to use financial tools such as a bank account and are more willing to engage in entrepreneurship
  • to see how satisfied the staff and inmates are with the overall program results.

According to Fortune, two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a financial literacy test, and that’s with the added benefit of being not incarcerated and having ready access to financial tools and education. One can only imagine how the prison population would fare in this regard.

Without knowing the ins and outs of budgeting, understanding how debt works and learning the importance of balancing a checking account and building up a savings account, your ability to enjoy life is compromised. Working toward financial literacy does not mean having a substantial disposable income. It implies, no matter what stage you are in your financial life, you can recognize the money you have and how to make it work for you, or you realize where the gaps in the budget are and what needs to be done to fill them.

Prison education is not complete without financial literacy – a skill all Americans need.

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).