In the field of correctional education, there are numerous tools, different types of prison education programming which can be used to teach and treat our incarcerated students. These include basic literacy, high school equivalency (often in the form of GED classes), Adult Continuing Education, Adult Basic Education, vocational training, college in prison, and more. All of these are effective at helping our incarcerated students prepare for a law-abiding life outside of prison. All of these forms of correctional education programming have been shown to reduce recidivism, instances of prison misconduct, and victimization. But the one proven time and time again to be the most effective is postsecondary correction education; college courses offered in prisons. And with this knowledge, we examine one such correctional education study that proves this point, and emphatically so.
According to the Institute for Higher Education Policy, one study on correctional education in Texas specifically looked at the costs and benefits of running college-level education programs for state prisoners. For the 2004 year alone, they found the following:
- Texas spent $14,700 in incarceration costs per prisoner in 2004, totaling $2.4 billion for the State.
- Texas spent only $3.7 million (0.15 percent of the corrections’ budget) on non-college correctional education, which equated to $382 per prison inmate.
- After including college costs in the equation, the State of Texas spent $3,082 per prisoner on education.
Based on this study, it became apparent that the State of Texas not only recouped the cost of postsecondary education provided to Texas state prisoners but did so within 3 years. The Texas taxpayers subsequently saved millions of dollars in projected, but now unnecessary, prison construction and operations costs.
The Texas model, in this circumstance, is one that every state should take note of. If other states — and the Federal Bureau of Prisons — were to offer meaningful college education programming in prison, American taxpayers could save billions of dollars annually. Crime could be significantly reduced, and victimization as a result of it. Communities could be bolstered — in particular, disadvantaged communities — and this groundswell of educated former wrongdoers could then be a benefit to society, not a detriment to it.
Ensuring that postsecondary correctional education programs are made available should be a priority of federal and state governments and their various systems of corrections. Not only will this result in a higher quality of life for current and released prisoners, but it will also reduce victimization and improve the lives of every American man, woman, and child. As the $50 to $62 billion spent annually on American corrections is reduced, the funds can then go back to social services that have been cut due to their prior increase. Education for disadvantaged American populations can be expanded, social safety nets can be enhanced, and necessary government programs that have been left by the wayside due to lack of funding can be restarted.
Educating America’s prisoners isn’t going to solve all of our social problems. It’s not going to eradicate crime. And it’s not going to end victimization. But it is a laudable step in the right direction.