The State of Washington is planning to change how it has delivered education to its incarcerated; the state now plans to allow the Department of Corrections to spend money on college-level education in its prisons.
College education for prison inmates has always been a hard sell to the American public. Back in the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, with crime rates and victimization soaring, the American people had enough. They — and, in particular, their representatives in D.C. and their state capitols — engaged in a campaign to cut any perceived amenities for prison inmates and to lock up as many wrongdoers as possible and throw away the key. It felt good to crime victims to see these wrongdoers punished and it felt like social progress to the lawmakers who enacted the supporting legislation.
Fast forward twenty to thirty years and the situation has changed drastically. Crime rates are down; in some cases, at historically low levels. The murder rate in Washington State alone is at levels akin to those of the 1970s. Regardless of this, the United States now incarcerates over 2 million prison inmates, and has several million more on probation, parole, or under other forms of community correctional control. While the U.S. holds around 5 percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Something is clearly wrong with our crime control policies.