Data Shows Educated Prisoners Don’t Return

By Ted Swain

After being released from prison, educated inmates do not come back, according to the Rand Corporation.

“We no longer need to debate whether correctional education works,” said Lois Davis, a Rand researcher. However, “we do need more research to tease out which parts of these programs work best.”

The report gives data to correction officials, lawmakers, and others participating in the criminal justice system to show that educating inmates while in prison is good policy.

“There is strong evidence that correctional education plays a role in reducing recidivism,” according to the report. Inmates who participate in education programs and vocational training have a 43 percent lower chance of returning to prison than those that do not.

The report focused on the “direct costs” of education programs in prison and incarceration. The report then examined a hypothetical pool of 100 inmates who returned to prison within a three-year period.

The report found that inmates who returned to prison, within the three-year period, who did not receive a correctional education cost between $2.94 and $3.25 million. However, inmates who received an education while incarcerated cost between $2.07 and $2.28 million. The re-incarceration cost for inmates who receive correctional education was $.087 to $.097 million less.

Analysis of vocational information demonstrated that employment among released inmates was 13 percent higher for those who participated in academic or vocational education programs. Also, one study compared the incidence of high school diploma to conviction status, and found that 36 percent of those in state prisons had less than a high school diploma, compared to 19 percent of the general U.S. adult population.

The study was a comprehensive review of the scientific literature and research on education in prison. This type of large-scale data collection and analysis, collected by many organizations over many years, is often called meta-analysis. It is a way of bringing together data from various other studies, which have been conducted over the years. Here, according to Davis, it has produced demonstrable proof that education has merit.

While correctional officials and policy makers struggle to cope during a period of constrained government spending, it seems clear that the education approach works best. While more research must be conducted on economics, it appears that not only does education reduce recidivism, it also reduces costs of incarceration by reducing the requirement of prison plant and equipment. It is clear from the report, when one combines the reduced cost of incarcerating inmates, with the positive result of turning the inmate into a taxpaying, contributing community member, it is a win-win situation.


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