Some years ago an inmate at SCI Gratford Prison Pennsylvania conceived of an entirely new approach to prison education, designed not only to enlighten its
A simple online search will reveal a plethora of prison education programs designed to equip prisoners with skills for life after prison. From community-based organizations to universities, there has been a growing consensus that releasing people from prison back into society without any training or education is likely to result in repeat offenses and subsequent jail time. Yet in tough economic times, there is the pressing need to justify every expense and every program. With education cuts in progress from coast to coast, many experts believe that decreasing funding for prison education programs is simply not an educated option.
The Need for Prison Education
According to Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education, 60 percent of released inmates return to prison (wesleyan.edu/cpe/about/whycip.html). The center asserts that “severely reduced employment opportunities” is at the root of this problem. Their education platform and similar initiatives in prison education target this problem by providing coursework that educates prisoners and teaches them valuable new skills that can help them lead more productive and more rewarding lives outside of prison.
A Department Chair at the College of New Jersey posted an article on Michael Moore.com asserting that “Over ninety percent of inmates eventually return to society,” (michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/how-cut-deficit-increase-prison-education-programs). Many of these inmates have not completed high school and have no skill sets for making a living in society. Few would argue that returning people as they are with no additional training or education will not yield a positive outcome—not for the majority who fall into that 60 percent of inmates who will return to prison. In other words, there is a genuine need to bring that percent down and prison education is the key to making that happen.
As prisons across the United States continue to experience overpopulation, there has been increasing concern among taxpayers regarding the ultimate costs of incarcerating so many individuals. Critics point to unsustainable incarceration numbers, huge costs and static crime rates as reasons why the criminal justice system needs to be seriously reformed.
A vocal minority of experts and media analysts, who see prison education as the best route to reform the system, is seeking to increase public awareness and challenge the status quo.
Critics of the criminal justice system can usually agree on several things: costs are way too high, too many people are crowded into jails and prisons, and far too many felons who are released end up committing crimes and reentering the criminal justice system. Developing ways to reform the system typically focus on one of these areas, such as lowering the overhead costs of running prisons, the privatization of prisons, changing laws to reduce the number of incarcerated persons or focusing on reduced rates of recidivism. Gaining public support for any of these initiatives can be difficult, however, as there are always concerns of both costs and the impact on public safety.
The challenges of reducing recidivism
Proponents of prison education have focused their attention on lowering recidivism rates. Doing so, they argue, will alleviate prison crowding and save taxpayers considerable amounts of money. To adequately reduce recidivism, however, the focus must be on why a majority of felons end up returning to jail.