When we last met Jail Education Solutions earlier this year, the startup was part of FastFWD, a social enterprise accelerator in Philly focused on public safety.
By Rebecca Gray
The United States has become, to borrow an apt title from a 2013 Bill Moyers special, Incarceration Nation. (http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-incarceration-nation/) While Moyers’ program focused on the disproportionate number of racial and ethnic minorities behind bars (minorities comprise more than 60 percent of the prison population), the problem transcends racial issues. The prison population in the U.S. grew from 300,000 in the 1970s to over two million today, and the U.S. has a higher rate of incarceration than any other nation. We spend billions of dollars every year to keep people behind bars.
The U.S. prison system has been widely and justly criticized for its failure to rehabilitate and the high rate of recidivism. Nationwide, 40 percent of released prisoners are back in the system within three years of their release. (http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/sentencing_and_corrections/State_Recidivism_Revolving_Door_America_Prisons%20.pdf) (For more links to information on national recidivism rates, see this page on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) site: https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/QA/Detail.aspx?Id=46&context=9.)
Though there are conflicting opinions about the best ways to prevent recidivism, there’s good evidence that education and training programs within the prisons play a significant role in helping participants stay out of trouble once they are released. Like everything else, however, education requires funding, which isn’t always forthcoming. And that’s just one of the big challenges facing correctional education today.
From the Oklahoma Department of Libraries
Inmates have among the lowest academic skills and literacy rates of any segment of society. Upon completing their sentence, most inmates re-enter society no more skilled than when they entered the correctional facility.—Correction Education Data Guidebook, U.S. Department of Education
- The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At yearend 2010, the total number of offenders under the supervision of the adult correction authorities represented about 3% of adults in the U.S. resident population, or 1 in every 33 adults. Some 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in prisons or jails, while another 4,887,900 were under community supervision as part of the parole and probation systems. America locks up more of its citizens than Iceland, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and Italy combined.
- In 2008, one of every 48 working-age men was in prison or jail.—The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
- In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spend nearly $75 billion on corrections, with the large majority spent on incarceration.—The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
- If the male high school graduation rate were increased by just 5%, annual crime-related savings to the nation would be approximately $5 billion dollars. The benefits would vary from state to state: South Dakota (at the low end) would save $1.6 million, Oklahoma (near the middle) would save $63 million, and California (at the high end) would save almost $675 million.—Saving Futures, Saving Dollars
- Nationwide, three-quarters of state prison inmates are drop-outs, as are 59% of federal inmates. In fact, drop-outs are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated in their lifetime. African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated. Of all African American male drop-outs in their early 30’s, 52% have been imprisoned. 90% of the 11,000 youth in adult detention facilities have less than a 9th grade education.—Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout
- Both male and female prison inmates had lower average scores on all three literacy scales (prose, document, and quantitative) than adults of the same gender living in households. 56% of prisoners had Below Basic or Basic prose literacy skills.—The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
Studies have consistently shown that those imprisoned tend to have lower levels of formal, academic education. Some have suggested that as many as half of
In the criminal justice community we often hear about recidivism. This is the relapse of former prisoners or probationers back into crime. The reason we focus so much on this topic is because it is a measure of our success. None of us teach prisoners or promote prison reform solely because we find it interesting: we do so because we aim to make a difference in our students and the world around us. And recidivism rates are our measuring stick. The lower the rate, the more successful we have been. The higher the rate, the more work there is that still needs to be done.
Recidivism is a problem. It’s a big problem. The fact is, most prisoners will fail unless they are provided with meaningful educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming. This isn’t a surprise considering that an internal revision needs to take place in order for a person to change their ways. This is true regardless of whether the person has a damaged character or not. So, we must strive to find ways to implement such meaningful and transformational programming, and we must obtain the funding required to start and sustain such essential programs.
Since we so often cover the benefits of educating America’s incarcerated class, it would be useful to touch upon the other side of the issue today: the negative effects of recidivism upon the various criminal justice stakeholders. This way the discussion here at Prison Education News is that much more rounded and complete.