Free higher education for incarcerated adults continue to be hotly debated. While some argue that it’s unfair to provide GED and college courses to inmates for free, the recent overwhelming success of some state programs has brought renewed attention to the issue. According to a recent NPR feature, only 17 percent of California’s Prison University Project (PUP) participants were reincarcerated within three years, versus 65 percent of all released prisoners. The PUP even has a waiting list. But is California’s success representative of prison programs nationwide?
To answer this question, Lois Davis and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of studies examining the relationship between correctional education participation and inmate outcomes, 1980-2011. They focused on correctional education programs in the U.S. which provided an academic and/or vocational curriculum with a structured instructional component.
Davis and team found that the link between correctional education and lowered rate of reincarceration holds for programs across the U.S., with the overall odds of recidivism being 43 percent lower for individuals educated in prison. Examining the cost-effectiveness of correctional education, they found that providing corrective education would cost about $1500 less per person than reincarceration. Their findings also suggest that correctional education may increase the rate of post-release employment. Since the U.S. incarceration rate has more than quadrupled in the past 40 years, it is important to invest in the future of inmates as a way to improve the health and wellness of individuals, communities, and ultimately the nation.
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Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, parenting and childhood, sports, and competition.