A recent study — “How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here” — from the RAND Corporation has shown that following the recession, prison education programs were cut to make up for budgetary shortfalls.  Specifically, between 2009 and 2012, educational programming was reduced by 6 percent on average, with larger states slashing prison education funding by 10 percent and smaller states doing the same by 20 percent.  This flies in the face of recent research which shows prison education to result in a 13 percent reduction in recidivism rates.  According to Lois Davis, RAND senior policy researcher, “There are now fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer students enrolled in academic education programs.”

To make the point even more clear, the RAND study also asserted that for every $1 spent on correctional education, $5 is saved on incarceration costs.  According to RAND’s Davis, “The debate is no longer about whether or not correctional education is effective or whether it’s cost-effective.”  This is because correctional education has been proven to be both beyond any doubt.  The Urban Institute’s Jesse Jannetta agreed, telling Time Magazine, “Investing in things like prison education is a way to not just have people re-offend, but have them be successful wage earners and go back and make the biggest possible contribution to their communities.”

The United States houses only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  At year-end 2012, this equated to 6.94 million persons under some form of correctional supervision and 2.2 million persons in prisons or jails.  When accounting only for state and federal prisons, in 2012 there were 609,800 admissions and 637,400 releases, with an inmate population of 1.57 million.  While the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that 51.8 percent of American prisoners recidivate within 3 years of release from custody, the Pew Center on the States has reported that the number is closer to 40 percent.  Regardless of the exact percentage point, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that around 95 percent of American prisoners will one day be released from custody, and most will return to crime and America’s criminal justice system.

In short, even though America’s prisons remain alarmingly overcrowded and recidivism rates remain sky-high, prison education — the most cost-effective, proven method of reducing recidivism — has been cut and continues to be so.  This is foolhardy politics and harmful crime control policy at its worst.

To learn more about this slashing of prison education budgets, see http://campustechnology.com/articles/2014/02/18/report-cuts-to-prison-education-may-lead-to-higher-prison-costs.aspx?admgarea=news/, and www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1744052/, and http://nation.time.com/2014/02/18/report-prisoners-less-likely-to-reoffend-after-education-behind-bars/print/.

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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